With the cut down to 53 players looming on Saturday, it is critical for the backups to show off everything they have in an effort to make the final active roster as the starters will play little if any according to head coach Lovie Smith.
Players trying to improve playing time potential and lock up reserve roles on this year’s roster get one last live-action opportunity to impress Buccaneers decision makers Thursday night against Washington.
As for the starters, Bucs fans will likely have to wait until the Sept. 7 season opener against division-rival Carolina to see them perform at Raymond James Stadium. Preseason finales are typically used by NFL teams to evaluate backups and guys on the bubble.
Although his responses differed slightly at times, head coach Lovie Smith said it’s been his standard policy as a head coach to keep expected starters on the sideline during the fourth game.
“As I said earlier in the week, we’ll play a lot of our backups for the majority of the game,” Smith said during Tuesday afternoon’s press conference. “Starters won’t play an awful lot, of course they know that. That’s why we had a long practice today. I just felt like we needed to get some good work with some of our front line guys.”
When asked about his struggling but recently bolstered offensive line and its participation Thursday, Smith firmed up his response about starters not playing at all.
“As a general rule, we use the first three preseason games in order to get ready for the season,” Smith said. “The final one, I never have and don’t plan on [playing the starters]. We feel good about the group that we’re going with and for most of those guys it’s time to get ready for Carolina. To develop our football team this is an important game for us and for some of our backups that didn’t play a lot last week. We weren’t pleased with how some of our seconds played. We want to get a good look at them, so there are a lot of things that we need to [look at].”
Smith added that newly acquired guard Logan Mankins, a nine-year veteran who will jump right into the starting offensive line, is not going to play.
“We’re going to start immediately trying to catch Logan up,” Smith said. “We didn’t bring him here to be a backup and sit him on the bench and all the stuff. So it’s about getting him up to date as soon as we possibly can. We have an excellent offensive line coach in George Warhop and as soon as we get him in he’ll start.”
Mankins is expected to take over at left guard, a position tenuously held by Oniel Cousins for the past two games.
For what it’s worth, considering starters have played varying portions of the past three games, Tampa Bay owns the second-worst yards-per-game average in the NFL (243.3). Bucs blockers’ struggles to open running lanes have resulted in an average of 90.7 rushing yards per game and 3.0 per carry.
With starting running back Doug Martin not expected to play Thursday and rookie Charles Sims out nearly two more months, Tampa Bay backups Jeff Demps, Mike James and Bobby Rainey will split up the handoffs from second- and-third string quarterbacks Mike Glennon and Mike Kafka, respectively. James has been limited this training camp with a shoulder injury, but said Tuesday he should be good to go on Thursday.
“It’s very critical,” James said of getting reps this week. “You always want to be healthy to put good things on film and that’s what I want to do. Injuries are part of the game. They happen and they create opportunities for other people. One thing you want to do whenever your number’s called, no matter what happens for it to be called, you just want to make sure you’re able to perform.
Tampa Bay and all other NFL teams are mandated to cut rosters down to their final 53-man maximums by 4 p.m. Sunday. The Bucs cut T Matt Patchan, CB Deveron Carr and T J.B. Shugarts while getting down to the 75-man roster threshold by 4 p.m. Tuesday. Offensive lineman Jeremiah Warren and DB Marc Anthony were added Tuesday and CB Danny Gorrer, who was initially placed on injured reserve, was released Wednesday afternoon with an injury settlement.
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