The Buccaneers escaped Miami with a one-point win, notching their first win of the preseason 17-16 against the Dolphins. While not a thing of beauty, the Bucs players and coaching staff will take it and will return to Tampa with a 1-2 record, with the Redskins coming to town on Thursday night in their final tune up before the regular season.
Below is Mark Cook’s take on the Bucs units with grades for each group.Quarterbacks
For those concerned with Josh Freeman coming into Saturday night’s preseason game against the Dolphins, Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback did little to quell those fears. In fact for some Buccaneers fans who were on the fence about Freeman, those fence-riders may have jumped off to one side after a 6-for-16, 59-yard night that included a fumble that slipped from Freeman’s hand late in the second quarter.
Freeman was never in synch all night and the few good balls thrown, Freeman’s receivers let him down with a couple few costly drops. Freeman was also under duress a good part of the night, causing some concern, as the offensive line most thought was a strength, looked confused at times.
It is easy to chalk it up to being preseason, but the fact remains there is little evidence seen from preseason thus far that Freeman will be able to just flip a switch and get into 2012 midseason form. Talk radio and internet message boards will be on fire this week, you can count on it.
Rookie Mike Glennon fared no better, however did find wide receiver David Douglas for a late touchdown that brought the Bucs back. Glennon, who played well last week, finished the night 3-of-9 for 43 yards and the game-winning touchdown.GRADE = DRunning Backs
While the Buccaneers running attack managed just 3.5 yards per carry, there were some flashes and glimpses that should make fans feel a touch better in the worst-case scenario that starter Doug Martin gets banged up this season.
Brian Leonard got the start in place of Martin tonight and had a solid first half finishing the night with 38 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown. Leonard doesn’t have the wiggle of Martin, or the bruising style of Peyton Hillis, but runs down hill and had just enough make-you-miss to be dependable backup.
Rookie Mike James had just 17 yards on seven carries, but was stuffed in the backfield a few times Saturday night that brought his average (2.4 yards per carry) way down. James is clearly the closest Bucs running back to mimic Martin’s style and agility, but is still a rookie and learning what it takes to be a complete NFL back.
Hillis got some carries late, and showed why he was previously a 1,000 NFL rusher. Surprisingly agile on his feet for being so big, Hillis will also lower a shoulder and deliver a blow, something that cornerbacks and safeties do not want to see in the fourth quarter.
Leonard, James and Hillis will have one more chance to showcase themselves next Thursday night against the Redskins, and there is no question head coach Greg Schiano and his staff will be faced with some tough decisions come cut down day.GRADE = BWide Receivers
The Buccaneers starting receivers were surprisingly underwhelming on Saturday night, not helping out their shaky quarterback through the first half. Vincent Jackson had a crucial first quarter drop on Freeman’s best pass of the night in the first quarter, and Mike Williams managed just two catches for 33 yards. Jackson had just one reception for 13 yards, and Kevin Ogletree wasn’t much more productive, hauling in just two receptions for 13 yards.
While it is easy to place all of the blame on a 90 yard passing night on the quarterbacks, the receivers must also take some of the responsibility. GRADE = DTight Ends
The Buccaneers tight ends were non-existent for a majority of the night and when their number was called it was for a bad plays like Nate Byham’s third quarter whiff block that led to a sack, or a dropped pass like Tim Wright had in the second half.
Why the tight ends are not more involved in the Bucs offense is a mystery to most who follow or cover the team. When a quarterback is struggling to get in a rhythm, one of the first things some offensive coordinators do is call plays that work the short middle of the field. Not many, if any teams win Super Bowls with strictly a vertical passing game. The Bucs coaching staff must find a way to get the tight end more involved in the offense or it may be a long season for Bucs fans.GRADE = FOffensive Line
What was assumed to be a strength of the Bucs offense was the offensive line, but through three preseason games, it has been a huge disappointment in pass protection. The Bucs offensive line gave up six sacks on Saturday night against the Dolphins and while there was some personnel shuffling going on, the Bucs offensive line will need to tighten up considerably in pass protection.
Gabe Carimi played guard next to tackle Donald Penn on Saturday night and their lack of chemistry was evident as both gave up a sack. Bucs fans were glad to see Davin Joseph back on the field, and while obviously rusty the former first-round pick out of Oklahoma played fairly well considering it has been one year since he has seen any live game action.GRADE = DDefensive Line
The defensive line must have gotten tired of hearing and reading about how bad they were and came to play on Saturday night. While not perfect, it was a marked improvement over the first two preseason games and gave the coaching staff hope that the front four may be able to generate some pass rush by themselves.
Adrian Clayborn, while not recording a sack, was all over the field Saturday night, showing he is recovered from a knee injury suffered last year against the Cowboys in Week 3.
Newly signed free agent Trevor Scott made his presence know early and often on Saturday night providing a spark sorely needed. Scott was credited with three sacks on Saturday, which was three more than the defensive line had produced all preseason long.
Rookie Steven Means also had a sack for the Buccaneers and was a part of a unit that harassed Dolphins quarterbacks all night. Akeem Spence, Gerald McCoy and yes even Da’Quan Bowers were solid performers all night for Tampa Bay’s often criticized defensive line.GRADE = A-Linebackers
Tampa Bay’s linebackers had solid effort against the Dolphins on Saturday night. Against the run both Lavonte David and Mason Foster had great games, and reserves Adam Hayward, Najee Goode and Ka’lial Glaud also performed well. But the Dolphins passing game completed a number of passes in the middle of the field, and it appeared Tampa Bay’s linebackers were out of position and failed to get proper depth at times.
Overall the unit was good and combined for 22 tackles, with David leading the team with six stops.GRADE = B- Secondary
The secondary had an up-and-down performance on Saturday night in Miami. The first-team unit allowed Ryan Tannehill to pick them apart at times, but really tightened up in the red zone. Rookie Johnthan Banks reminded everyone he is still a rookie, but didn’t give up anything deep, keeping receivers in front of him for the most part. Tannehill was able to find soft spots in the Bucs zone at times and took what the defense gave him.
Cornerback Leonard Johnson led the Bucs secondary with five tackles and three pass breakups.
On the night the secondary gave up 264 yards through the air, but buckled down when they needed to. GRADE = CSpecial Teams
Tampa Bay’s special teams unit overall played very well, minus a long punt return, and a 15-yard penalty for a gunner not getting back in bounds quick enough in the first half. Adam Hayward was the star of the special teams unit, recovering two fumbles on punt returns.
Kick returner Eric Page may have distance himself in the race to win the returner job, averaging 17.5 yards on two punt returns and also adding a 23-yard kickoff return.
Recently signed former Bills kicker Rian Lindell was solid in his Tampa Bay debut nailing a field goal and extra point Saturday night against the Dolphins.GRADE = B
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