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August 29, 2012 @ 1:30 pm
Current rating: 5.00 Stars/2 Votes

Five Things To Watch For In Bucs' Preseason Finale

Written by Dory
Dory LeBlanc


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The starters won’t see much, if any, playing time tonight against the Washington Redskins, but there are still some things Bucs fans should watch out for with final roster cuts looming.
The new offensive line needs to establish chemistry quickly.
When the Bucs signed Carl Nicks in March, the offensive line instantly became one of the most solid lines in the league – on paper. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood was the Bucs’ biggest question mark heading into OTAs (organized team activities) and minicamp, but the left tackle position soon became a concern as well as Donald Penn injured his calf in offseason workouts and missed a month of practicing with the team thrusting Demar Dotson into the role of starting LT. Penn returned to practice last week and made his preseason debut against New England and despite needing to get his legs back under him after missing so much time, played as well as a left tackle with limited practice time in a new offense could. That is, until he blocked Patriots rookie DE Chandler Jones into the back of Joseph’s right knee and the rock of the O-Line was carted off the field and placed on injured reserve.

Head coach Greg Schiano has been toying with the idea of having both Dotson and Trueblood play at right tackle, and has options to replace Joseph with Ted Larsen, Jamon Meredith and Derek Hardman.

Not only does Penn need to establish more chemistry with Nicks on the left side, the right side is a complete mish-mash of players that need to establish not only fluidity but stability. Tonight’s matchup with Washington will be a the first test with the new bodies up front, and seeing what combination is the most productive should give insight as to who will be the front five come September 9th against Carolina.

There are eight wide receivers vying for six spots. Who will step up and take the final two slots on the 53-man roster?
Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are locks to be the starting No. 1 and No. 2 wideouts, respectively, but the Bucs will more than likely carry six receivers on the final 53-man roster which leaves four more to pencil in. In addition to Jackson and Williams, Tampa Bay has six more wide receivers listed on the current 75-man roster: Arrelious Benn, Landon Cox, Preston Parker, Jordan Shipley, Sammie Stroughter, and Tiquan Underwood.

Benn has missed the past month after injuring his knee in the same play that has sidelined EJ Biggers with a broken foot on day one of training camp, but has been walking and jogging around practice lately and is expected to start participating this week. Despite the injury that has allowed other receivers to step up and perform well, Benn is listed as the third receiver on the depth chart behind Jackson and should still be able to make a case for the final 53-man cut.

Cox has been relatively quiet through much of the preseason, but was able to make it through the first rounds of cuts. Unfortunately for the one-year player out of Northern Illinois, he more than likely won’t be as fortunate come Friday. However, Cox has impressed Schiano enough that he beat out Greg Ellingson - a local product who showed great speed, nice hands, and improved route running over the past month – so the possibility for Cox to sign as a practice squad player is still alive.

Schiano preaches ball security which is the biggest downfall of Parker, who has muffed two punts in as many preseason games. Parker has been utilized as the go-to slot receiver, but his punt return opportunities have declined due to the signing of Shipley, Underwood, and Stroughter, who has spent his career in Tampa Bay as a return specialist. Parker has not had the same mishandling of the ball as a receiver and can make a case to remain with the team in the slot without handling returns.

Shipley is one of the newest Buccaneers after being claimed off of waivers from Cincinnati nine days ago and like Parker, has played in the slot and has return capabilities. The third year player out of Texas has had to learn Mike Sullivan’s playbook quickly and the learning curve for Shipley has been extended because of it. Shipley has a questionable history of injuries but Schiano is comfortable enough at this point that Shipley’s reconstructed knee is not a problem. If Shipley can run his routes effectively and hold onto the ball, he may play well enough to make the final roster.

Since he arrived in Tampa in 2009, Sammie Stroughter’s biggest contributions have been as a kick returner, but with the drafting of Michael Smith in the seventh round of the 2012 draft, Stroughter has taken a back seat to the former Utah State Aggie. Last season Stroughter returned 20 kicks for 540 yards, but did not field one punt return. With Parker’s aforementioned trouble with hanging on to the ball as a punt returner, Stroughter’s strongest case for making the final roster would be if his total return specialist numbers from a year ago were flipped.  Stroughter may find himself one of two players looking for a new team Saturday morning.

Underwood shined through all of training camp and the first preseason game (three receptions for 76 yards) but has not had a lot of targets in the past two matchups. It’s quite possible Underwood has shown Schiano and the Bucs enough that other receivers are getting the opportunity to show the coaching staff what they are capable in a live-game, or there is something the rest of us aren’t aware of pertaining to Underwood. At this point in preseason, every possibility has to be explored, and Underwood has to be hoping for significant playing time against the Redskins to ensure he will be one of the six receivers on the 2012 final roster.

The Bucs opened training camp with seven tight ends, but head into the final preseason game with five, two too many.
Like the receiving corps the top two tight end spots are set with Dallas Clark and Luke Stocker, but three more TEs are vying for a chance to be the coveted third tight end. It is a possibility, given Mike Sullivan’s use of two and three tight end sets, that a fourth could be kept, but that is unlikely considering the Bucs need depth at other positions and the numbers may not afford them the luxury of keeping four.

Zack Pianalto is the only remaining TE who has consistent blocking and receiving capabilities; so much so that he can also be used as a backup fullback. After Clark and Stocker, Pianalto has been utilized the most in practice, playing with the second team. Pianalto should be the third tight end due to his versatility especially as a blocker.

Danny Noble has been a pleasant surprise for the Buccaneers. The undrafted rookie out of Toledo is a second in size to Stocker at the position and has shown reliable hands. Noble has had success as a downfield blocker, but struggled at the line especially against New England. The right side of the O-Line has already taken a hit with the loss of Joseph and the inconsistent play by Trueblood, making it a must that Noble displays the ability to block in pass protection against Washington.

The second of two seventh round draft picks in April, Drake Dunsmore’s upside is that he is an athletic tight end, despite being the smallest of all the tight ends the Bucs have had on their squad the past month. At 6-3, 245 pounds Dunsmore biggest downside has been his blocking which he was rarely (if ever) asked to do at Northwestern. Dunsmore athleticism and reliable hands may find him on the Bucs practice squad as a developmental player.

After the four starting defensive backs – Aqib Talib, Eric Wright, Ronde Barber, Mark Barron - the Bucs need to solidify the secondary.
Before being sidelined the last week with a hamstring injury, cornerback Anthony Gaitor emerged as the third corner and first nickel back, with free safety Ahmad Black installed in dime packages. The two “undersized” defensive backs are among the two biggest playmakers in the secondary and will both easily make the final cut.

Behind Barber, Barron and Black, second-year Larry Asante, undrafted rookie Sean Baker, and third-year injury prone Cody Grimm are fighting for roster spots with versatile defensive back Keith Tandy in the mix.

Overall, Asante has played very well the past month and has displayed athleticism, intelligence, and a reason why the Bucs drafted him in the fifth round in 2010.

Baker has been used most frequently on special teams, and due to lack of defensive playing time, Baker is the biggest long shot to make it past Friday and onto the final Buccaneer roster.

Grimm is the epitome of a try-hard guy who has overcome several obstacles to get the chance to play on an NFL field, but injuries in 2010 and 2011 have been the biggest deterrer to keep Grimm on one. The moving of Barber from corner to free safety, as well as the impressive play by Black and Asante may keep him off of Tampa Bay’s field permanently.

Keithy Tandy, the 2012 fifth round draft pick out of West Virginia, has also materialized as a versatile player who can play at both the nickel and safety positions, putting his talents on display against the Patriots with a team-leading eight total tackles. Coupled with the fact that he is a fifth rounder and played in the pass defense happy Mountaineer defense, Tandy has made a strong case to be kept through the regular season.

Talib and Wright, the starting cornerbacks make a talented tandem for the Bucs against opposing wideouts, but behind the starting CBs and Gaitor, the Bucs need to be worried.

Biggers sustained the broken foot in the first day of camp, allowing Gaitor and Myron Lewis the opportunity to step up. Like Gaitor, Lewis had an impressive training camp, but unlike Gaitor, it hasn’t translated to live-games. Lewis is on the bubble and needs a strong outing against the Redskins in order to remain on the final roster.

Brandon McDonald was signed by the Bucs following the release of Desmond Marrow the same day as Shipley, but it was the former not the six year NFL veteran that wrote the bigger headline. After only a few days in a pewter and red uniform, McDonald took the field as a substitute against New England posting three tackles. McDonald’s most productive seasons came in his first three with Cleveland, but McDonald could only muster up minimal playing time in both Arizona (2010) and Detroit (2010-11). McDonald does carry NFL experience and has looked better than some other Bucs defensive backs in the past week.

Local fan favorite Leonard Johnson is another player with compact size, and like Gaitor a year ago, needs time to develop as an NFL CB. Johnson’s frame and skillset make him best suited as a safety, but with the abundance of safeties currently on the roster, Johnson may ultimately end up on the practice squad while he hones his craft.

The Bucs are getting scarcely thin at defensive tackle and need someone to step up as a suitable backup.
When Gerald McCoy hit the grass against New England writhing in pain holding his knee, Bucs fans held their breath with flashbacks of 2010 and 2011 when the immensely talented DT sat out a total of 13 games in his first two seasons due to injuries. McCoy attempted to go back in, allowing fans to breathe again, briefly, before heading for the sidelines for the remainder of the game. The Bucs signed free agent Amobi Okoye in April relieving the organization from going after a DT in the draft, or so they thought. Okoye has a lingering knee issue and received arthroscopic knee surgery in June, but has struggled to stay on the field despite the scope being considered minor.

The Bucs have 3-Techs Wallace Gilberry (signed in June) and Teryl White (signed in August) listed behind McCoy and Okoye on the depth chart, with EJ Wilson, the versatile and athletic third-year player listed as Michael Bennett’s backup at left end, also a possibility for playing DT against Washington.

Gilberry has registered 14 sacks over the four years but has only recorded two tackles (one for loss) this preseason. White had a solid training camp, but lack of playing time in the preseason games may be hurting him.  Despite the injury situations with McCoy and Okoye, the Bucs will more than likely carry an extra D-Tackle and Gilberry should be the one that gets the nod.

Although fans and some members of the media were upset about the Bucs trading Brian Price to Chicago, Price has underperformed his second round billing for the Bears as well, making the trade not as big of a hit it was thought to be a month ago. Roy Miller, who played in place of Price last year when Price was injured, has played adequately as the nose tackle, but has yet to really solidify himself as a consistent NFL NT. Gary Gibson has been chasing Miller at the nose tackle position all preseason and with experience (Gibson started every game for the Rams in 2010), is the definite backup. Frank Okam hasn’t lived up the expectations Tampa Bay had when they signed the fifth year veteran in 2010, but likely could end up on the practice squad due to the injury history of the Bucs tackles. 

Last modified on Wednesday, 29 August 2012 15:30

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  • avatar

    To quote a line from House Party (for those who know what I'll talking about) "I SMELL PU_SY !!!" That's what they're playing like .
  • avatar

    I think that is risky Horse. Blount is the only guy with experience. He is a hard runner too. If Martin goes down and Blount is gone, who can we count on for an every down back ? I like the idea of getting a DT, not sure Parker will get any draft picks.
  • avatar

    I say we go with only 3 RB's and trade Blount for some quality help at other positions for a 3rd round draft pick as I am not sure if he is a fit for Schiano's scheme. I am not going to say any thing about the DT situation; go figure. I think we should trade either Parker or Stroughter for a 6th or 7th round draft pick. There are a couple teams out there that need RB's and WR's. Go bucs! Look Sharp!
  • avatar

    "Overall, Asante has played very well the past month and has displayed athleticism, intelligence, and a reason why the Bucs drafted him in the fifth round in 2010." Um... he was drafted by Cleveland....
  • avatar

    "Overall, Asante has played very well the past month and has displayed athleticism, intelligence, and a reason why the Bucs drafted him in the fifth round in 2010." Dont believe we drafted him, but great insight! Im hoping to see a lot out of Shipley and our other defensive backs this game.
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