Tampa Bay Buccaneers: What to Watch for in Preseason Game Action
Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans, your team has an actual football game tomorrow.
Of course, that's debatable, depending on who you ask. Preseason games might not tell you a great deal about your team, considering the starters aren't likely to see more than a series or two, but the chance to evaluate new additions and younger players is invaluable for coaches.
In the case of the Bucs—who arguably have the most overhauled roster in the league—preseason action could be even more vital, as new blood learns to blend with returning talent, all the while trying to learn new schemes and coaching styles on both sides of the ball.
With plenty of intriguing position battles thrown in, there will be plenty to keep an eye on when the Bucs tilt with the Jags to kick off preseason action.
Running Back Carousel
Easily the deepest unit on their entire roster, the Bucs boast an impressive stable of young running backs who should have new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford salivating.
Doug Martin returns as the starter after recovering from a torn labrum that ended his 2013 season prematurely. He's not likely to see much action in the Bucs' first preseason game, but the rest of the depth chart behind him will be one of the most compelling battles to watch leading up to Week 1.
Bobby Rainey is currently listed in the No. 2 slot on the Bucs' first unofficial depth chart. The Western Kentucky product was a pleasant surprise for Tampa Bay last year, rushing for 566 yards and five touchdowns in six starts after being picked up off waivers.
Behind Rainey is rookie third-round pick Charles Sims, who was a surprise pick in the minds of many, considering the depth the Bucs already had at the position. Sims has three-down potential and has already been impressive in camp, so don't be shocked if he quickly jumps over Rainey.
Jeff Demps and his world-class speed will also be in the mix, as the former Florida Gator tries to re-acclimate himself to football. He's made it clear that he's focused solely on football, and the results so far in training camp have been encouraging.
All of these backs after Martin should get plenty of action against the Jaguars. All four have also been involved in the rotation as return specialists in an attempt to increase their value to the roster. This first preseason game will set the tone for who gets first crack at spelling Martin.
Normally, starters don't see much action past the first two series in the initial preseason matchup. But when it comes to the guard position, the Bucs are holding open auditions, meaning fans will be watching potential starters line up at that spot for most of the night.
Veterans Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins are currently listed as the starters on either side, but that's mostly due to their advantage in experience. Younger options like Patrick Omameh and rookie fifth-round pick Kadeem Edwards have been getting plenty of reps with the first team in training camp as well, as the Bucs try to find the best combination to move forward with.
Meredith should lock down one spot. However, though Cousins has more experience, I expect one of the younger guys to beat him out at some point in the preseason.
Omameh comes from a premier college program at Michigan, so he won't shy away from pressure or competition. Edwards is extremely raw but has intriguing natural ability. If the small-school product from Tennessee State is able to develop quickly in camp, he could end up stealing a starting spot.
This is a competition that likely won't be settled until later in the preseason, but this first game will give fans their first look at who takes the upper hand in a game situation.
New Schemes on Both Sides of the Ball
Along with the roster overhaul, the Bucs will also be transitioning to new playbooks on both sides of the ball.
Jeff Tedford brings his impressive offensive resume from the collegiate level, where he commanded prolific offenses at Cal, while former Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier has been brought it to administer Lovie Smith's Tampa 2 defense.
Tedford has plenty of experience as a play-caller in the college game, but this will be his first foray into the NFL. His offenses have favored the run consistently in the past, so look for the Bucs to try and establish that early and often. A weaker stable of guards might not help Tedford accomplish his goals on the ground, but a deep stable of running backs will be useful.
A quick passing game will be helpful as well, considering the amount of chemistry that still needs to be built up front.
On defense, things will be plenty simpler, as the Tampa 2 returns to the city that made the scheme famous under Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin. Key players such as Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David have already drawn comparisons to Hall of Famers Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, and they should thrive in their new scheme.
With new playbooks to digest heading into the first preseason game, don't expect to see too many fireworks on either side of the ball. Coaches are still in the process of installing the nuances of each scheme, and they're unlikely to show off any tricks until the regular season begins.
Still, it will be interesting to see how different things look on the field against the Jags in comparison to last year under Greg Schiano and his staff.
The Bucs have cycled through multiple candidates to handle the return duties so far in training camp, but this week will give them their first look at real-game situations to evaluate the best fit.
Eric Page currently sits atop the team's first unofficial depth chart at both punt and kick returner, though plenty of others should get a look against the Jaguars.
Rookies Robert Herron and Charles Sims are likely to get some action, while Skye Dawson could also be involved. Herron has struggled to hang on to the ball in practice, and both he and Dawson might be on the roster bubble if they can't make an impact on special teams.
Sims should be heavily involved on offense behind Doug Martin, but he could also make an impact in the return game.
However, speedster Jeff Demps is the guy to keep a close eye on. He has impressed throughout training camp, using his explosive speed to fly past defenders in the passing game. We'll see if those track-star wheels translate to the game field, where he could be especially valuable as a return specialist.
The Bucs' offense wasn't exactly fear inducing in 2013, especially when it came to red-zone production. A rookie quarterback, injuries up front and in the backfield and a limited amount of playmakers in the passing game forced the Bucs to rely on field goals way too often inside their opponents' 20-yard line.
But Tampa Bay's new regime attacked those shortcomings with a vengeance this offseason, retooling the offensive line and adding a veteran quarterback. But the biggest improvement in this department was made with regards to pass-catchers, with the Bucs speding their first two draft picks on massive targets who excel in the red zone.
Top 10 pick Mike Evans will line up across from Vincent Jackson, who sports a skill set nearly identical to the Texas A&M product. Adding to the "Dunkaneers" moniker will be second-round pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who blends size with athleticism to give the Bucs their own new-breed tight end.
Throw the 6'5" Jackson in the mix and defenses should have a much tougher time keeping the Bucs out of the end zone in 2014.
Josh McCown excelled in Chicago last season by taking advantage of the superior size of his top targets, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey. This group might not see too many snaps in the first preseason game, but if they get inside the 20, look for McCown to take at least one shot toward his new weapons to try and put six points on the board.