TAMPA – Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter wrapped up training camp this past Thursday by making a rather bold statement, saying this is the deepest Bucs team he’s been a part of.
We could find out tonight just how deep it really is.
Based on what we saw in practice this past week, it’s likely the Bucs will sit out at least half a dozen starters tonight in an effort to keep them from turning minor injuries into major ones.
Linebacker Kwon Alexander, right tackle Demar Dotson, cornerback Brent Grimes, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and wide receiver Mike Evans are among those who may not dress for tonight’s “dress rehearsal.’’
With that in mind, here’s a look at three areas of play that will be most interesting to track as the Bucs potentially test their depth against the Cleveland Browns at Raymond James Stadium.
Red Zone Play
The Buccaneers first team offense has done a great job this preseason of moving the ball between the 20s. What it’s done a miserably poor job of so far is turning those long drives into touchdowns. The Bucs first-team attack has produced just one touchdown in four opportunities inside the 20 thus far, that on a 2-yard run by Doug Martin. The Bucs have a vast array of red-zone weapons, led of course by tall pass catchers such as Mike Evans, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard, but poor execution and poor decision making by quarterback Jameis Winston has prevented the team from taking full advantage of those weapons where they’re needed most. It would be one thing if this were only happening in preseason games but the issue has been a constant in practice as well, so this is an area the Bucs really have to clean up before the regular season starts.
The Running Backs
If this is indeed a dress rehearsal for the opening game of the season then this will likely be the game in which the Bucs show us their plan for replacing Doug Martin, who still must serve out the last three games of the four-game suspension he earned last year for violating the league’s PED policy. The general consensus is that Jacquizz Rodgers will be the early-down back and that the team will then turn to Charles Sims as its third-down pass-catching option. Rodgers, though, had a rather quiet training camp and he’s had an even more quiet preseason, running just seven times for 15 yards and catching two passes for seven more. There’s a chance Peyton Barber could step up and take some of those early-down reps from Rodgers, but Rodgers can secure his role with a good outing tonight. If he fails, the Bucs may have to go to Plan C.
The bold decision to dump Roberto Aguayo didn’t solve the Bucs kicking issue. It simply placed it squarely on the foot of Nick Folk, who has yet to prove he’s a vastly better option. Folk, who was virtually matching Aguayo miss for miss before Aguayo’s departure, is coming off the kind of game that ultimately cost Aguayo his job, one in which he had a PAT blocked because he kicked the ball too low and missed a 47-yard field goal attempt. Folk had a big day in practice last week, going 5-for-5 including making a 56-yard try at the end, but it’s in games where he has to perform. Anything short of a perfect night tonight could put the Bucs back on the lookout for an answer to this dilemma. The Bucs do have a challenger in camp in Zach Hocker and while he did make a 61-yarder in practice last week, his history suggests he’s too inconsistent to be the answer.
Fantasy Football “Start/Sit” for Florida players Week 14
Everyone’s favorite time of year has arrived, that is if you had a good season. The fantasy playoffs are here, and if you made it, chances are some Florida players helped get there.
This week the Buccaneers will host the reeling Colts. The Jaguars will host the under-performing Chargers, and the Dolphins travel to play the ever-disappointing Jets.
The Buccaneers will entertain the Colts, who have the 13th overall defense. The Colts are 1-4 in their last five games and desperately need a win. Last week, they were torched on the ground by Titans RB Derick Henry. However, this was the first 100-yard rusher against the Colts this season.
The Bucs again surprised fantasy players last week, when Ronald Jones was benched in the first half for not picking up a blitz. This led to Peyton Barber scoring two touchdowns, while Jones had zero points. The Colts have surrendered two passing touchdowns in each of their last three games. Last week the Tampa Bay offense didn’t have to do nearly as much as usual.
This week, expect the Bucs vertical passing to be back throwing the ball at least 35 times. With a stout run defense, Jameis Winston will need to be at the top of his game in a big test for this Bucs team.
The Jaguars offense has been rough through the air with Nick Foles back. Now, Foles is back on the bench in favor of rookie, Gardner Minshew. The Chargers come into town with the 4th ranked pass defense, but let Drew Lock and Cortland Sutton connect for 74 yards and two touchdowns. The Chargers own the 18th ranked rush defense, and that is music to the ears of Leonard Fournette.
It has been a rough couple of weeks for the running back facing some stout run defenses. This weekend look for Fournette to get back on track. With the return of Minshew means the D.J. Chark becomes even more attractive. Chark was still the top guy with Foles in, but he and Minshew have a good connection.
The Dolphins are coming off one of the stunners of the year beating the Eagles in a 37-31 shootout. This week they set their sights on the Jets, who just gave the Bengals their first win. The Jets have the leagues’ best-run defense, which is usually significant. However, the Dolphins can’t run the ball effectively at all.
That means Ryan Fitzpatrick will be throwing a lot against the 19th ranked pass defense.
Last week Fitzpatrick and Devante Parker destroyed the Eagles secondary. This week they will have all the opportunities to do the same thing to the Jets. With the tight end position a mess, Mike Gesicki is an option again, who has scored in two straight games.
Colts Kicker Adam Vinateri out for Bucs game
The Colts are traveling to Tampa Bay but will likely take on the Bucs without their future Hall of Fame Kicker, Adam Vinatieri.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 5, 2019
Before the matchup last week against the Titans, Vinatieri had began to experience a bit of pain in his left knee, the leg he plants to kick with his right leg. He told reporters that the pain began to increase through the week which led him to be placed on the Colt’s injury report for the first time this season.
Later Friday afternoon, Indy made Vinatieri’s “out” status official:
Per Coach Reich, RB Marlon Mack and WR Parris Campbell are expected to play Sunday.
More on who's in and who's out for #INDvsTB:
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) December 6, 2019
Vinatieri who is currently the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, has struggled to be consistent this season and has made a career-low 68% of his field goal attempts. He’s cost the Colt’s a couple of games in his missed eight field goals and six extra points.
Colts head coach Frank Reich said Wednesday that Vinatieri saw some doctors and got scans to figure out the severity of the problem. From there, they’ll consult with doctors and make a decision, which could potentially end his career. He’s currently sitting at 599 made FGs in his 24 seasons, just one shy of the 600 mark.
Earlier this week, Indianapolis secured rookie kicker Chase McLaughlin off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers and the 45 year old Pro Bowler had said on Thursday that if he got the go ahead from everyone, he’d take the field on Sunday.
“Docs and trainers and everybody will put their two cents in and we’ll see if we can go,” Vinatieri said. “If I can go, I’ll go.”
Obviously, he did not get good news, and that means the rookie McLaughlin is in to kick at Raymond James Stadium.
The Colts are looking to stay in the race for the AFC wild card spot, in a similar situation as the Bucs, so this Sunday (and really every Sunday from here on out) is a do or die for both teams.