By Tom Krasniqi
The third preseason game is what NFL teams usually refer to as the “dress rehearsal”. Starters will typically play into the 3rd quarter as they get try and find some rhythm before the regular season begins. The last preseason game is usually a throwaway as coaches try and evaluate fringe players before final cuts.
So far this preseason, the first team offense and defense have produced lackluster results. On Saturday, the Bucs look to refine their game when they take on the Dolphins down in Miami. Head coach Greg Schiano says starters will see significant playing time, including quarterback Josh Freeman. Last week against the Patriots, Freeman saw just two series and has played sparingly this preseason.
“Yeah, I mean, he’s going to play,” Schiano said of Freeman. “I’m not going to get into specifics of each player, but he’ll play quite a bit.” That’s interesting because every starter will not see the same amount of snaps. Schiano has repeatedly said that each player has their own specific program. While Freeman needs the work to get on the same page with his receivers, running back Doug Martin may not see as much playing time. Last week, Martin was forced to leave the Patriots game after taking a knee to the head. Thankfully for the Bucs and Martin, he didn’t suffer a concussion but you have to figure the team will be extremely careful with their workhorse back.
Defensively, most of the first team will also see extended playing time with the possible exceptions of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker LaVonte David and safety Dashon Goldson. Those three players were pulled early last week in New England during the opening drive. Schiano and the Bucs cannot afford to lose any of those core players, especially McCoy. The pass rush has produced just one sack on the preseason and that was David on a blitz against the Ravens.
The Bucs would love to see their front four apply some pressure to Ryan Tannehill and company on Saturday. With that being said, expect to see quite a bit of the rookies, especially defensive ends William Gholston and Steven Means in particular. They have flashed some pass rush ability in camp and the Bucs are looking for anyone that can apply pressure. Rookie defensive tackle Akeem Spence will also see quality playing time. The team has been pleased with his progress at the tilted nose tackle position and coaches believe he can provide a push up the middle. Expect Spence to start on Opening Day.
The key to the team’s ass rush are defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers. Clayborn is starting to come around but Bowers has been admittedly out of shape and the team could play him quite a bit on Saturday. Schiano continues to push Bowers in practice. “Oh, I think the ceiling is unknown,” Schiano said regarding Bowers’ potential. “I think he can really be a fantastic player. Consistency is the big thing right now, but I do think he’s making strides. I think he’s improved in this training camp.”
Bowers will get a chance to show his worth Saturday night. He’ll be a key player to watch. The Bucs registered just 27 sacks from a year ago and their leading sacker, Michael Bennett, is in Seattle.
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