With just two more chances before the real bullets fly in the regular-season opener against Detroit on September 11, many unanswered questions remain for the Buccaneers. Saturday night’s preseason game should provide some answers heading into the upcoming season. PewterReport.com presents a few things to look for as Tampa Bay plays its third preseason game against the Miami Dolphins Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium.Is the offensive line going to remain offensive?
With a total domination by the Patriots' first-team defense last week, it is fair to say the offensive line can only play better. There isn’t a lot of room to go down. With two sacks, numerous pressures, and running backs getting stuffed for negative yards, the O-line looked confused and completely unsure of how to handle the Patriots' fairly complex blitzing schemes. As bad as it looked from the press box and on television, it had to have looked even worse in meetings and film study, especially with line coach Pat Morris standing over them with the laser pointer.
That is one reason why I expect the line to respond and play their best game of the preseason. If they can’t establish decent protection or open some holes for LeGarrette Blount and Tampa Bay's running backs, it is going to be a long season and the Bucs will come nowhere near eclipsing the 2,000-yard rushing mark as a team as they did last year.
A number of offensive linemen told PewterReport.com this week there was a combination of things that went wrong against New England, and they know they must step up this week. We do give them credit as none of the linemen made any excuses and all took full responsibility for their sloppy play. Tampa Bay is treating this week's preparation as a “mock” week in terms of preparing for the regular season and will spend a lot more time in actual game preparation and scheming as opposed to last week.
Hopefully, we won't see left tackle Donald Penn boxing out defensive ends with his rear this week, and is this the week James Lee shows up and looks like the guy that was supposed to challenge Jeremy Trueblood?Who is the next man [or men] up at CB?
While most in the media expect E.J. Biggers to be that “next man up,” as Raheem Morris likes to say, to replace Aqib Talib if the star cornerback gets suspended, there are other players who are making strides and impressing the head coach. Twice over the last week, Morris had singled out Dominique Johnson as a player in that mix.
Johnson has had a solid camp from PewterReport.com’s perspective, but in most practices he did not appear to stand out or show the potential of being a flashy player. With that said, we aren’t privy to practice tape, nor do we know specifically the calls the coaches are making. But obviously Johnson has done enough to be noticed by Morris and he has played well in the first two preseason games.
Former Vanderbilt star Myron Lewis is another thought to be on the verge of being that next man up, but nagging injuries through training camp have kept him off the field for much of the preseason and Lewis is expected to receive some game time action this week. Morris singled out Lewis as having played well after being pressed into action after Talib was placed on injured reserve towards the end of last season.
Anthony Gaitor, a seventh-round draft pick from Florida International, is impressing Morris and defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake with his confidence, ball skills and ability to not only play two corner spots, but also getting some work in at safety.
Elbert Mack, who like Johnson has been steady throughout the preseason, made a huge play in the Patriots game returning an interception 69 yards for a touchdown to give the Buccaneers their first score in that game.
With all of that said PewterReport.com will be focusing on not only the play of the cornerbacks against Miami, but also the order in which they get playing time.Is Foster ready to be the man in the middle?
Starting at middle linebacker as a rookie is a lot like starting at quarterback as a rookie. Both are high-profile positions, both require leadership and a grasp of the entire unit, and most strikingly similar is the pressure to succeed. So when the Buccaneers made Mason Foster their third-round draft pick this past April, then told Barrett Ruud thanks, but no thanks as the team's middle linebacker, Foster quickly became the most scrutinized player on the defense.
If you spend five minutes listening to sports radio or reading Internet message boards you will hear or read numerous comments about Foster. Perhaps not since the Buccaneers released Derrick Brooks has a roster decision been so hotly debated.
Foster is a likeable guy, great with the media, and seems to genuinely love being in this new position. But over the first two games he has experienced growing pains, most notably in pass coverage. The thing to look for is improvement.
In the Kansas City game, the Chiefs came in with a very vanilla offense and didn’t pose a huge challenge for Foster. Last week was an entirely different story. Foster seemed to freeze at times while dropping in coverage, which is an indication of thinking instead of reacting, and he was caught out of position on a few plays, including a touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez. But Morris deflected some of the blame from him and also defended his hit on Chad Ochocinco, which drew a 15-yard penalty and a $20,000 fine from the NFL this week.
The only way Foster is going to get comfortable is with playing time. The game will eventually start to slow down for the former Husky, but the Buccaneers need for it to happen sooner rather than later. With the opportunity to play at least the first half of the Miami game, Foster will either make the Buccaneers’ front office breathe a sigh of relief or send them to the medicine cabinet for the antacids.Is GMC's production looking up?
Last week, we at PewterReport.com couldn’t wait to see how McCoy would fare after not playing since last December against the Redskins, in which he suffered a season-ending torn biceps injury. After seeing extensive action in the first quarter, McCoy was one of the few bright spots on either side of the ball. He was a disruptive force in the Patriots backfield but failed to show up on the stats sheet with any significance. He was close to a couple sacks but lost his footing, and also lost his footing while attempting to stop and tackle running back Danny Woodhead early in the game on a big run. I think some of that can be attributed to over eagerness after missing so much time. I have heard many coaches say they love a player's aggressiveness, but it must be somewhat contained as an overly aggressive defender can run himself right out of the play.
Like Foster, the talk around town has been has been split pretty much evenly down the middle when it comes to McCoy. Many are tired of his perceived “talk” and no action, while others seem to defend the former Sooner and his leadership role, along with his brutal honesty when commenting to the media.
The PewterReport.com staff’s position lies somewhere in between. We all love his willingness to help with a story, or his quick wit when discussing a wide variety of subjects. But sometimes you can forget McCoy was the third-overall pick in the 2010 draft. Not third round, but third overall! Production is what the organization and the fans expect to see.
Of course, you can't blame McCoy for his injury last season, nor the rotator cuff injury that limited him early in camp. He has said all the right things, but more importantly he has been that on-the-field leader in practice and in the locker room. From the first day of training camp, and the very first drill the team ran that day, it was big No. 93 who was first in line.
While he appears jovial and loose in the locker room the man is deadly serious when he steps on the field. I expect to see McCoy play just as hard as last week but this time with some results in the statistics column to show for it. And remember McCoy was on pace to match another former Tampa Bay first-round pick who had only 3.0 sacks in his rookie season. You may have heard of that guy – former Bucs great Warren Sapp.Will an actual running back lead the team in rushing instead of QB Josh Johnson?
Let's make a prediction right now. Josh Johnson won’t lead the team in rushing against the Dolphins. Of course with the starters set to play into the opening drive of the third quarter and perhaps beyond, Johnson won't have as many opportunities this week as he has had the previous two. While that's an attempt at a bit of humor, there is nothing funny about the Buccaneers' ground attack thus far in preseason.
Looking over the rushing totals through the first two preseason games, the Buccaneers have rushed for 203 yards on 49 carries for a respectable 4.1 yard average. Now take Johnson’s carries and yards out of the equation and the Buccaneers running backs are averaging 2.9 yards per carry. Many factors can be attributed to the paltry totals but the bottom line is both the backs and offensive line will need to do a better job for Tampa Bay to have success this season. Part of Josh Freeman’s breakout success last year was the ability to keep the defense off balance with the threat of a running game.
We at PewterReport.com will be watching how the offensive line plays while facing their third 3-4 defense in a row, and which running backs can make the most of whatever chance they get.
Copyright © 2011 Pewter Report, PewterReport.com and Pewter Insider. All rights reserved. PewterReport.com, the official site of Pewter Report, is an independent source of news and commentary and is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NFL.