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.