The Tampa Bay offense only had 12 first downs Wednesday and didn’t move the chains for the first time until the 10-minute mark of the third quarter. But it wasn’t the lack of a powerful offense that led to the Buccaneers’ 27-point thrashing.
Washington’s pass rush got to the Tampa Bay quarterback five times Wednesday and notched more than a sack per quarter. But it wasn’t a porous offensive line that led to the sloppy play of the evening that also featured three turnovers.
What was missing Wednesday—the main reason the Buccaneers didn’t stand a chance of beating the Redskins on the road—was the presence of any of the starters on the field.
Billy Ratliff took every Tampa Bay snap in the final preseason game of the year. Starting quarterback Josh Freeman never inched towards the playing field.
Only three Bucs carried the football Wednesday and none of them were named LeGarrette Blount or Doug Martin.
The Buccaneers didn’t use Mike Williams or new receiving addition Vincent Jackson in the game, leaving Ratliff’s 14 completed passes to be hauled down by eight different receivers, namely Tiquan Underwood, who caught six passes.
Tampa Bay held out its starters and most of the second-team players, according to the Tampa Tribune, leaving head coach Greg Schiano the Bucs final preseason game to do a little experimenting.
Obviously Schiano, and the rest of the coaching staff, wanted to evaluate players down on the depth chart in an effort to aid in the decision-making process of getting from 75 players to 53, the toughest round of preseason roster cuts that needs to happen Friday.
But the Bucs also tinkered with the offensive line dramatically in search of a replacement for right guard Davin Joseph, who was lost for the season last week.
Jamon Meredith is listed as the backup at right tackle on the Buccaneers depth chart. He, however, started at right guard Wednesday and committed two pre-snap penalties.
Meredith wasn’t the only player used out of position.
Ted Larsen, who according to the Tribune report has only played left guard in the NFL, didn’t switch sides of the line and play at right guard, Larsen played center. When Schiano pulled Larsen, another guard was inserted at center, Derek Hardman.
The reason Schiano didn’t use projected starting center Jeremy Zuttah at center—the reason for all this shifting around—was the fact that the coaching staff is considering moving Zuttah to fill in Joseph’s spot at right guard and moving Larsen to center, according to the Tampa Tribune.
But it was hard to tell what worked and what didn’t.
"(Playing Meredith at guard) was something we wanted to look at because we have to find out what our answer is there,'' Schiano told the Tribune. "But it was hard for me to really evaluate it because we were playing a lot of guys out of position.''
Ratliff was dropped five times and the running game produced just 31 yards on Wednesday, giving Schiano no "aha" moments of an offensive line combination that clicked.
The coaching staff will trim the Tampa Bay roster to 53 Friday and then use the next eight days to continue dialing in the right combination on the offensive line. The Carolina Panthers come to town on Sept. 9 for Week 1 of the regular season. The Bucs had better be ready by then.