Buccaneers vs Vikings: Previewing Tampa Bay's Preseason Week 1 Matchup
Fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are no different as they prepare to root on their Pewter Pirates against live opposition for the first time this season, getting their first look at new quarterback Jameis Winston.
Preseason games may not matter in the win column, but they're a vital tool for teams to see their entire roster respond in real-game situations. For those fighting to carve out a spot on the final roster, these games are just as important as any regular-season tilt.
As the Bucs head to Minnesota to take on the Vikings, here's what to watch for.
Location: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: WFLA (Tampa), KMSP (Minnesota)
News and Notes
Lavonte Locked Up
One issue looming over the heads of Bucs fans was the contract status of All-Pro linebacker Lavonte David, who was going into the final year of his rookie deal.
But the Bucs put all worries aside earlier this week by signing David to a five-year extension that will pay him an average annual salary of over $10 million, with just over $25 million in guaranteed money. The deal makes David the highest-paid 4-3 linebacker in the NFL.
General manager Jason Licht knows David is one of the keystones upon which the Bucs want to build a dominant defense, per Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com:
Lavonte, along with Gerald McCoy, form the foundation for the championship-level defense that we are building, and it was crucial to have them both in the fold to lead our defense. I can’t say enough about Lavonte’s professionalism and his commitment to our team throughout this entire process. This extension is a prime example of our desire to reward the types of players who will play a key role in helping us achieve long-term success.
Once extensions for other top linebackers like DeAndre Levy and Bobby Wagner were signed, it was only a matter of time before the stars aligned and the Bucs inked David. He'll be a Buc for a long time, and Tampa Bay was wise to lock up one of the best young defenders in the entire NFL.
Jameis Winston = Young Aaron Rodgers?
Bucs center Evan Smith spent the first chunk of his career with the Green Bay Packers, where he played with arguably the best quarterback in the game right now, Aaron Rodgers.
It's obviously way too early for such comparisons, but the veteran says his new quarterback—top overall draft pick Jameis Winston—reminds him of a younger version of the two-time league MVP, per Eric Adelson of Yahoo Sports:
I've only been around two other quarterbacks. I played with one who was really good. He reminds me of a very young version of him. Jameis hasn't taken a snap yet in this league. When I first got to Green Bay, you could see the talent there, you could see Aaron was starting to take off as a superstar. You can tell Jameis has that potential.
Potential is great—and Winston has plenty of it—but far too many players have failed to live up to their ceiling for various reasons. Winston may have the chops to become one of the league's best, and while it's good to have the confidence of veteran teammates, he'll have to take at least a few NFL snaps before he should be mentioned in the same sentence as Rodgers.
Getting Even Stronger at DT
Defensive tackle is easily Tampa Bay's deepest position group, but with Akeem Spence still recovering from back surgery, the team grabbed some insurance by signing free agent Tony McDaniel to a one-year deal.
A late cap casualty let go by the Seattle Seahawks following some hefty contract extensions given out to key players, McDaniel is excited about playing for the Bucs, per Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times:
I like the chance to go to a place and change things, instead of going to a team that's already there. I'd rather come to a team that's on the verge of being really great and help change things. The defensive line is already pretty solid here, and I think I bring some more toughness. Having me here, we can win a lot more ballgames. It's my job to eat up blockers so my linebackers can run around and make plays.
At 6'7", 315 pounds, McDaniel is a gigantic defender who excels at eating up space in the middle, giving the Bucs even more run-stopping power. Rotating players through the defensive line will be key in keeping the whole group fresh, and the addition of McDaniel will allow them to continue to do that, even in Spence's absence.
Latest Injury News
NFL teams aren't required to produce official injury reports for preseason games, but here are a couple of players who have been dealing with various ailments in training camp and could be unavailable for Saturday night's game in the Twin Cities.
*Injury information courtesy of Buccaneers.com
Spence was expected to be a key part of Tampa Bay's deep rotation at defensive tackle, but the former fourth-round pick out of Illinois had back surgery last month and is expected to miss a good chunk of the regular season. His status likely played a significant role in Tuesday's signing of former Seattle Seahawk Tony McDaniel.
Allen is the only other player listed on the Bucs' current depth chart who looks to be possibly inactive on Saturday night, thanks to a nagging ankle injury. This would leave Jeremiah Warren—an undrafted free agent in 2012 and local college product from South Florida—as the team's only depth at center behind starter Evan Smith.
Otherwise, the Bucs look to be fairly healthy heading into their first preseason game.
Bucs Pass-Rushers vs. Vikings Offensive Tackles
It's been the weakest link on the Tampa Bay defense for some time now, and the team's need for an impact edge-rusher went largely unaddressed again this offseason, with the addition of George Johnson as the only significant improvement to the group.
The Bucs seem content to roll with Johnson and Jacquies Smith as their starters, but though each showed promise in 2014, neither has ever been a full-time starter. Behind them, the likes of T.J. Fatinikun, Larry English, Lawrence Sidbury, William Gholston and more will be fighting throughout training camp to carve out a roster spot.
Smith and Johnson might not see more than a few series in this game—same goes for Minnesota starting tackles Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt—but this game will be important in showing the Bucs what they really have as far as depth at defensive end. They desperately need one or more of their backups to take their game to another level.
Bucs Offensive Line vs. Vikings Front Seven
The Bucs have a new franchise quarterback and plenty of weapons on offense, but none of that will matter if the offensive line doesn't experience a significant improvement in 2015.
Tampa Bay is set at right tackle with Demar Dotson, left guard with Logan Mankins and center with Evan Smith—all veterans with plenty of successful NFL experience—but the starting spots at left tackle and right guard are still up in the air, and there's not much depth behind any of them across the board.
The Vikings have an extremely talented front seven, one that got even better with the addition of linebacker Eric Kendricks and a raw but promising pass-rusher in Danielle Hunter.
The Bucs need their two second-round draft picks—tackle Donovan Smith and guard Ali Marpet—to get up to speed as quickly as possible, and for last year's pair of fifth-round picks—tackle Kevin Pamphile and guard Kadeem Edwards—to show marked improvement over their rookie campaigns.
This will be the first test for Tampa Bay's rebuilt offensive line, and it won't be an easy one.
Bucs X-Factor of the Week: WR Kenny Bell
Tampa Bay's veteran starters probably won't see much action, but the next tier of the depth chart should get plenty of snaps in their first live-game action, especially the rookies. And no rookie has been more impressive so far through training camp than Bell, who already looks like a potential steal as a fifth-round pick.
Bell has a great combination of speed, hands, toughness and size—6'1", 197 pounds—and he's caught nearly everything thrown to him through the first two weeks of practice. He looks extremely comfortable in the offense so far—especially for a rookie—and has already developed a visible chemistry with both Jameis Winston and Mike Glennon.
Bell should play a good portion of the first half at least, and should get plenty of opportunities to make a strong impression in his first NFL game action. He'll be a challenge for the Vikings reserves whether he's lined up in the slot or on the outside, and could easily be a difference-maker in this game.
Prediction: Vikings 20, Bucs 17
Both teams have promising young quarterbacks in Jameis Winston and Teddy Bridgewater, but it's unclear how many snaps each of them will get in their first preseason game of the year. However, they each also have a capable backup in Mike Glennon and Shaun Hill, respectively, both of which will likely play a decent chunk of this game.
This should lead to both offenses being able to move the ball well against second-team defenses, as both Glennon and Hill have a good amount of starting experience in the NFL.
In the end, the Bucs still have far too many question marks to feel confident in predicting them to win, and the Vikings get a slight edge with the home-field advantage, as well. Regardless of how the starters play in their limited action, this one will come down to a late field goal.
Final Prediction: Vikings 20, Bucs 17