What are the six things PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer
Scott Reynolds will be looking for in Tampa Bay’s second preseason game
at New England? Find out in his new weekly column, SR’s Pick 6.
The Buccaneers are up in New England for a highly touted preseason against the Patriots on Friday night at 8:00 p.m. What are the six things PewterReport.com publisher Scott Reynolds is looking for in Tampa Bay’s next preseason clash? Find out in SR's Pick 6, a new pre-game weekly feature on PewterReport.com.1. MORE EFFORT FROM BOWERS
Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano has been riding defensive end Da’Quan Bowers all training camp about effort and production. The Bucs need more from Bowers, who had just two tackles in an entire half playing against Baltimore in last week’s 44-16 loss. Bowers has essentially been handed the starting job with the departure of Michael Bennett, last year’s leading sacker, and hasn’t seized the opportunity.
This week, Bennett has seen time with the No. 2 defense while Daniel Te’o-Nesheim has taken some reps at left defensive end with the starters. Between that and Schiano publicly calling out the need for Bowers to step up from being a situational player to a full-time starter in his press conferences, something needs to click inside the former Clemson star. Bowers better answer the wake-up call and show more production in the preseason – starting in Foxborough – or he will not be able to shake the “situational player” tag and he won’t be a starter for Schiano.2. AN IMPRESSIVE DEBUT FROM NICKS AND CLAYBORN
The Bucs should get a boost offensively and defensively from the preseason debuts of left guard Carl Nicks and right defensive end Adrian Clayborn. Nicks missed the Ravens game while he continued to rehab his surgically-repaired toe that caused him to miss the final nine games of the 2012 season. Clayborn was close to being fully recovered from a torn ACL that cost him 13 games last season before a groin injury in training camp forced him to miss the preseason opener.
Nicks’ workload has increased in practice and he has looked a bit rusty as his toe continues to bother him. But it’s time to put the pads on, come off the sidelines and get back in the swing of things for the Pro Bowl guard and prove that he can return to form as a violent road-grader for running back Doug Martin and be a massive wall while pass protecting for quarterback Josh Freeman.
Clayborn has been participating more in training camp than Nicks and would have played last week against the Ravens if not for a groin injury. With Bowers struggling to prove that he can be a productive, full-time starter, Clayborn will have to assume the role of the Bucs’ primary edge rusher and sack producer at the defensive end position this year. That starts against the Patriots, and a continuation of the hard-charging style that resulted in a team-leading 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles as a rookie, and a sprained knee for Tom Brady this week in practice as Clayborn dominated Nate Solder and bull-rushed the left tackle into the New England quarterback.3. CREATE MORE TURNOVERS ON DEFENSE
While interviewing former Oakland start quarterback Rich Gannon, who was the 2002 MVP, this week with Booger McFarland on 98.7 The Fan, we discussed how far the Bucs defense has come this offseason with all of the newly acquired talent, such as cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Johnthan Banks and free safety Dashon Goldson. Gannon made an interesting observation and said for the Tampa Bay defense to be able to turn the corner and get back to the ways of the legendary unit under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin the defense would have to create more turnovers.
Gannon threw five interceptions to the Bucs defense in Super Bowl XXXVII, including three that were returned for touchdowns, so he speaks with great credibility on this subject. Tampa Bay’s first-team defense looked impressive against Baltimore in the preseason opener, registering a sack and an interception of Super Bowl champion Joe Flacco while holding the Ravens scoreless in the first quarter. But the Bucs failed to create a turnover in the final three quarters, and that needs to change.
Strong safety Mark Barron had a pick-six last year against Brady, and reserve safety Ahmad Black also had an interception in Tampa Bay’s August upset in 2012. The Bucs are looking for similar production again this preseason.4. IMPROVED SPECIAL TEAMS PLAY
Outside of the kicking of first-year player Derek Dimke, who was 3-of-3 on his field goal attempts and also made a touchdown-saving tackle on Ravens kick returner Bobby Rainey, Tampa Bay’s special teams units stunk. The debut of new special teams coordinator Dave Wannstedt was certainly less than special as the Bucs surrendered a long kick return, gave up a blocked punt in the end zone for a Ravens touchdown and a muffed punt return by Chris Owusu that resulted in a turnover.
Dimke’s solid performance in his Tampa Bay debut combined with Lawrence Tynes’ toe injury put him in the front-runner position in the Bucs’ kicking contest. Can he maintain his consistency with another impressive preseason performance against the Patriots?
Bucs desperately need to settle on a punt and kick returner for the 2013 campaign. Eric Page is the early leader for punt returns and Michael Smith is the current starting kick returner. Can they win those jobs or will others step up in New England and impress to the point where there are new players to field kicks and points?5. A TOUCHDOWN DRIVE FROM THE STARTING OFFENSE
With the kicking situation unsettled due to Connor Barth’s untimely Achilles tendon injury, the Bucs weren’t terribly upset that the first-team offense produced just six points and gave Dimke a chance to kick his first two NFL field goals. Finding a kicker this preseason is more important than seeing Freeman connect on a touchdown pass with Vincent Jackson or Mike Williams – which he did 17 times last fall during the regular season.
But the Bucs would like to see Tampa Bay’s first-team offense generate a touchdown or two in the preseason – starting with the New England game. Freeman is in a contract year, so getting a touchdown pass on the scoreboard – or even a goal line handoff to Martin – would be a welcome sight to give him some confidence heading into the season opener at New York, and it will allow Bucs fans to breathe a sigh of relief as well. 6. BETTER PRODUCTION FROM BUCS ROOKIES
Second-round pick Johnthan Banks looked like an NFL cornerback in his Buccaneers debut last week, making five tackles and breaking up a pass. Quarterback Mike Glennon, who was Tampa Bay’s third-round selection, had a nice, 61-yard pass to tight end Tom Crabtree offset by an interception against Baltimore. The trio of Bucs draft picks along the defensive line – nose tackle Akeem Spence and defensive ends Steven Means and Will Gholston – had little or no impact on the game. Sixth-round running back Mike James didn’t look like anything special averaging under 3.0 yards per carry against the Ravens. Highly touted rookie free agent cornerback Rashaan Melvin gave up a touchdown.
While Banks starred and Glennon was just okay in his first NFL action, the Bucs need their 2013 rookie class to show up in New England and begin to make splash plays. The roster spots for Banks, Glennon and Spence are secure, but the same can’t be said for the rest of the rookies. Spence is fighting for the starting nose tackle spot, and the rest of the rookies are fighting to make the team. Now that they have their first game jitters out of the way, it’s time for the likes of Means, Gholston, James, Melvin and others to start standing out before time runs out.
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