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August 11, 2011 @ 4:19 pm
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Five Things To Look For In Bucs' Preseason Opener At Kansas City

Written by Mark
Cook
Mark Cook

Mark
Cook

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With the first exhibition game just one day away, the PewterReport.com staff have come up with five things to watch for when the Buccaneers kick off the 2011 preseason at Kansas City.

After watching every practice and walk-thru thus far in the Buccaneers' 2011 training camp, Friday night’s preseason opener should help answer some questions heading into the upcoming regular season. PewterReport.com lists five things to look for as Tampa Bay plays its first preseason game Friday night in Kansas City in a nationally televised game on Fox.

Will Josh Freeman pick up where he left off at the end of last season?
Freeman, the Buccaneers' unquestioned offensive leader, finished last season playing as well as any quarterback in the NFL. In his final two games of 2010, Freeman threw for seven touchdowns, including a franchise-record five against the Seahawks in Week 16. Freeman followed up that performance by adding two more touchdown passes in an upset win at New Orleans and almost 500 combined yards in those two contests. Tampa Bay's first-round pick in 2009 has immense pressure on him, not to mention local expectations, to lead the Buccaneers into the playoffs. Bucs legend Warren Sapp, who stopped by One Buc Place on Wednesday to file a report for NFL Network, also has high hopes for the third-year quarterback.

“They have a franchise quarterback and I see [Freeman] as an MVP candidate this year because he’s fire retardant,” Sapp said. “The one thing I’ve done in this league is I’ve chased quarterbacks and I’ve lived quarterbacks. This young man – there is something about him.”

No one, the PewterReport.com staff included, expects Freeman to make as much of a jump this season as he did from his first to second year when he threw for 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions. But the good news is he doesn’t have to. With running back LeGarrette Blount firmly established in the backfield, Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn on the outside at wide receiver, and tight end Kellen Winslow as healthy as he as been since joining the Buccaneers, the offense should be as good, if not better, than last season.


Talking to Freeman several times during camp, we get the impression he not only isn’t afraid of the challenge, but he actually embraces it. We have all heard the game’s greatest quarterbacks described as cool, confident and unflappable. Freeman appears to be all three of those. But the true test begins Friday night.

Don’t get overly concerned if his stats don’t jump off the pages during preseason, as the Bucs won’t necessarily be focused on winning. Olson and his offensive coaches will play-call to see how Freeman and other players react to certain situations. Instead, look for improvement in his command of the offense - his accuracy and reads - and most importantly his decision-making.

How will players who suffered season-ending or offseason surgeries perform?
The list of players who missed games because of injury last season was long. Aqib Talib, Cody Grimm, Jeff Faine, Jeremy Trueblood, Davin Joseph, Quincy Black, Brian Price, Earnest Graham, and Arrelious Benn were all key contributors who missed significant time due to injury. Training camp walk-throughs and one padded practice a day are a far cry from an actual live NFL game, even if it is only preseason. In fact, some of the toughest licks you will see during a season come during those hot August nights as players on the bubble look to make an impression.

So what will we see from last year’s walking wounded? Will we see Benn round off his routes as opposed to cutting and planting? Will Grimm avoid large collisions in order to protect his leg? We seriously doubt it, but the questions are valid for those mentioned and all who are returning from injury. Returning from an injury is as much mental as physical, some of the players told us during camp.

We all remember holding our breath nearly every time Cadillac Williams touched the ball the last two seasons. But as Grimm told PewterReport.com during training camp, you have to forget about it and just relax and play football. Easy for us who don’t play to say, but true nonetheless.

How will the lack of offseason workouts and new CBA rules regarding training camps affect tackling?
Let’s face it. Anyone who watched the late 1980’s Buccaneers coached by Ray Perkins in training camp at the University of Tampa wouldn’t even recognize the training camp of today. Three-a-day full padded practices, minimal water breaks and players literally trying to take each other’s heads off were the norm under Perkins.

Of course all of those intense practices didn’t translate to wins on the field. Yet this year’s camp is the least physical of any training camp we have attended. But don’t blame Raheem Morris.

Across the board in the NFL, training camps are all the same. Arguments can be made that there will be less camp injuries and careers will be extended. On the other hand, will injuries during the regular season increase? One aspect of the game that may suffer due to the lack of intensity seen in training camps, combined with the NFL’s crackdown on the type of hits allowed, may be fundamentals like tackling. Sapp, in his 30-minute, no-holds-barred session with PewterReport.com and the local media on Wednesday, also wonders how the changes will impact play on the field.

“I’m looking for the fundamentals of the game to come back now,” Sapp said. “Because that’s what will have to come back to actually tackle now. You’ll see people diving at people’s waist and not wrapping up and they will be bouncing off. There is going to be more YAC [yards after contact] than we have ever seen. I just don’t see the fundamentals on the defensive side.

“Two-a-days push you to the point you didn’t know you could go. That’s what it prepares you for, those long grueling days in the sun. Right now [for these guys in comparison] it is Club Med.”

The players seem to love it, the coaches seem to tolerate it.

Somewhere Vince Lombardi is rolling over in his grave.

Will linebacker Mason Foster hold off Tyrone McKenzie at middle linebacker?
The Buccaneers, as most teams, love to showcase their draft picks. Foster, who has had a strong camp, is listed first on the depth chart and will start Friday night. Many, including the staff at PewterReport.com, assumed McKenzie would get the early nod based on experience, even if it is only just part of a season.

While we as a staff watch every practice at training camp, we don’t know all that goes on behind the walls at One Buc Place. Foster may be picking up the overall defense quicker in meetings than expected. But as stated earlier, teams tend to give close battles to draft picks as opposed to practice squad or waiver-claimed players. That is in no way accusing the Buccaneers of not being fair.

Key contributing players like Blount, Ted Larsen, Micheal Spurlock, Dezmon Briscoe, and Donald Penn weren’t draft picks of the team, and the coaching staff and front office have had no problem playing them. With that said and four preseason games to play, we still look for McKenzie to battle and make the September 11 starting depth chart very difficult on the coaching staff.

Will someone stand out at the safety position?
The PewterReport.com staff, while observing last year’s training camp, saw the safety play as must-see training camp watching. Grimm was all over the field, Sean Jones was intercepting passes in drills, and Tanard Jackson was his usual hard-hitting self. Once the season began, Grimm played well up until his injury but Jones had only one interception in his 15 starts.

With Jackson still suspended and Grimm coming off injury, it has been difficult to pick out anyone who has stood out so far in training camp from this group of safeties on the roster. Solid but unspectacular is the best description of what we have seen through the first two weeks of camp.

Grimm told PewterReport.com last week that his leg still gives him pain and the longer practice goes, the more pain he suffers. The team's training staff expects that to improve as camp goes on, but we still wonder if the nagging injury is causing Grimm to play a little cautious.

Corey Lynch, who joined the team in 2009 coming from the Cincinnati Bengals, is an option at free safety. The Buccaneers also have high hopes for rookie Ahmad Black, who, like the majority of the safeties, has yet to make many splash plays in practice. The safety battle will be one of the most interesting battles to watch this preseason and hopefully someone will emerge as a difference-maker in the deep secondary.

- Scott Reynolds contributed to this report

Last modified on Thursday, 11 August 2011 23:14
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COMMENTS

  • avatar

    I am from Tampa but live in KC tight now, so going to the game. Snatched our vets season tickets, so will be 17 rows up behind the Chiefs bench at the 30 yard line. I am sure to get some comments about my vintage personalized creamcicle jersey...GO BUCS!
  • avatar

    Good stuff MC welcome aboard
  • avatar


    Freeman was from Kansas State right? How far away is that from Arrowhead? Curious if there will be a hometown cheer for him.
  • avatar


    Horse and Scubog are correct, the Bucs lifetime are 4 games over .500 in the preseason, yet would have to go 11-5 until 2035 before breaking even in the regular season. That undefeated preseason was 1983, and included a pasting of the Patriots in week 4. Offense was shut out a week later. in '89 Ray Perkins went 3-1, followed by 5-11. Gruden's Bucs went 3-1 in 2004, but 5-11 when it counted. It works the other way too, Tony Dungy had a 1-3 Preseason in 1997, but finished with the first winning playoff season in 15 years. IN fact, only 7 times have the Bucs had winning pre and regular seasons. Source: www.Bucstop.com
  • avatar


    Horse; You speak with wisdom and experience regarding your view of pre-season games that I share. Every pre-season fans put far too much stock in these glorified padded practices. It will be funny to read some of their comments tomorrow. No one getting hurt and seeing the youngsters for evaluation purposes is the goal here. It's primarily situation football with a very limited game plan to attack the opponent. The focus should be on watching the individual players and not so much the team. Pay even less attention to the 4th quarter when the opponent is playing the 90th player on a 53 man roster. I remember the Bucs won all four pre-season games and fans were in a tizzy. The team followed that up with a two-win season. Pre-season games are like our congress deciding on a budget..........they don't count.
  • avatar


    It's only one pre-season game and I don't xpect much at all to see in this game. All I would like to see in this game is no injuries. We won't know much until at least two regular season games have been played. Go Bucs!
  • avatar


    I would like to see PR discuss T-Jack's return more thoroughly. Where has he been training? How quickly will they work him back in? Will he be a starter when he comes back? Is T-Jack still the best safety on our team?
  • avatar

    No mention of Larry Asante? I thought he was supposedly having a good camp at safety.
  • avatar

    Excited for football again! I can't wait to watch the Bucs tomorow, nationally televised prime time fox. I think Freeman and the WRs will pick up right where they left off. They've been in sync all offseason and it showed on day 1 of TC how ahead of the defense they were. I just want to see how much they will limit Bowers. I think they want to work him in with the 1st team, but won't want to risk injury. I say he gets 20 snaps. Half with 1st team and the rest with 2nd string.
  • avatar

    Ahmad Black will make a big play in tomorrow night's game. He is just a gamer. Very excited for the game tomorrow night! Here's to a fun, enjoyable, injury free game. Go Bucs!!
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