What are the six things PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer
Scott Reynolds will be looking for in Tampa Bay’s third preseason game
at Miami? Find out in his new weekly column, SR’s Pick 6.
The Buccaneers are down in Miami for a highly anticipated preseason against the Dolphins on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. What are the six things PewterReport.com publisher Scott Reynolds is looking for in Tampa Bay’s next preseason game?1. ALRIGHT, LET’S SEE FREEMAN GET MORE REPS
Are you sick and tired of the “Josh Freeman hasn’t gotten enough snaps in the preseason” mantra that has engulfed Tampa Bay area sports talk radio and PewterReport.com’s message boards this week? I know I have. Freeman has played in exactly four offensive series in two preseason games, with three of those ending in three-and-outs. But he has been sacked four times through two preseason games and had a third-down pass to Kevin Olgetree dropped at New England to kill a drive.
As a result, he has played the third-fewest snaps of any starting quarterback in the 2013 preseason. But do we really need to see Freeman get more reps? I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen Freeman start all but one game over the past three seasons. I saw him throw for a team-record 27 touchdown passes last year and become the franchise’s first-ever 4,000-yard passer. I don’t need to see Freeman play a bunch of reps in the preseason – and need is the key word in that sentence.
Do we want to see Freeman play and perform well? Of course, but do we need to see it? No. He’s not a rookie quarterback and he has a full year’s worth of playing in Mike Sullivan’s offense, throwing to Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams and handing off to Doug Martin. The good news is he is slated to play at least the first half in Miami, so we’ll see plenty of Freeman on Saturday night.2. BETTER PASS PROTECTION FROM THE O-LINE
The Buccaneers have given six sacks through two preseason games, including four by the starting offensive line that has disrupted Freeman’s performance in the four series he has presided over this August. It would be one thing if the Bucs’ backups were the guilty parties, but No. 2 quarterback Mike Glennon has only been sacked twice.
Granted, the Bucs have been playing without the services of Pro Bowl guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, but Ted Larsen has plenty of starting experience and he surrendered a sack last week at New England. Left tackle Donald Penn, who has Pro Bowl credentials, also surrendered a sack, as did right tackle Demar Dotson – and both of those players are starters. In order to give Freeman more opportunities to be more productive he needs better pass protection.3. MORE SPLASH PLAYS ON DEFENSE
Tampa Bay’s defense has underwhelmed in two preseason games, especially in the splash plays department. Granted, the starters haven’t played much, but through eight quarters of play the Bucs have just two interceptions, one sack and no forced fumbles or fumble recoveries.
Tampa Bay’s starters have done a credible job in terms of scoring defense, holding the Ravens scoreless in the first quarter and surrendering just a touchdown to the Patriots, but the second unit has surrendered 27 points through two games (not including a blocked punt for a touchdown against Baltimore). But where are the turnovers? The Bucs spend an entire period during practice every day dedicated to creating takeaways on defense. Where are the results – even from young defenders desperate to make the football team?
Considering the concern over the team’s lack of pass rush last year, the fact that no defensive lineman – starter or reserve – has gotten to the quarterback yet through two games (the Bucs’ only sack has come from a linebacker blitz by Lavonte David), you have a right to be worried about the alarming lack of sacks by the D-line. To put that in perspective, former USF defensive end George Selvie, who was signed during the offseason and released shortly thereafter prior to the start of OTAs (organized team activities), has three sacks this preseason for Dallas. Selvie is tied for the NFL lead this preseason.4. CAN DIMKE STAY PERFECT?
The Buccaneers signed veteran kicker Rian Lindell to provide rest for first-year kicker Derek Dimke as well as competition. The Bucs have been without the services of Lawrence Tynes for weeks as he has dealt with an ingrown toenail, that has turned into a MRSA infection and his return date is cloudy, if he in fact he even returns at all. As of right now, the job appears Dimke’s to lose.
Dimke is a perfect 5-for-5 on his field goal kicks this preseason, and is tied for the NFL lead in field goals. If he can remain perfect against the Dolphins with a few more field goals he could essentially end the competition before it begins. Lindell will likely be given a few attempts because he’s the new leg in town, and if Dimke misses a makeable kick he could be given consideration as the team’s veteran replacement for Connor Barth this season.5. FINDING A CLEAR-CUT FAVORITE AS THE NO. 2 RB
One of the biggest question marks heading into the preseason is which player would step up and become the backup running back behind Doug Martin? Brian Leonard, rookie Mike James and Peyton Hillis have all performed well through two games.
James is Tampa Bay’s leading rookie with 96 yards on 21 carries (4.6 avg.), followed by Hillis, who has 86 yards on 22 totes (3.9 avg.). Leonard, who did not play in the second preseason game, had 23 yards and a touchdown on six carries. With the starters expecting to see a lot of action for the first two or three quarters, carries among the reserve running backs may be limited – depending on how much or little Martin plays in Miami.
The best-case scenario would be letting James, Hillis and Leonard all see some action with the first-team offensive line to see how they perform against Miami. To make Tampa Bay’s decision easier when it comes to the running back depth chart, it would be great for one of these backs to step up and claim that job with a standout performance against the Dolphins.6. WILL DARKHORSES EMERGE?
Time is running out on Tampa Bay’s longshots – the late-round draft picks, the undrafted free agents, the newly acquired guys off the street. With just two preseason games left to make a favorable impression, there are nearly three dozen Buccaneers fighting for their NFL careers.
The bad news for the backups is that there will be limited reps against the Dolphins as the starters are expected to play into the third quarter. The players that do get the chance to play sparingly on Saturday need to make the most of their opportunities as newly signed cornerback Mason Robinson did when he picked off Patriots quarterback Tim Tebow in the fourth quarter last week.
Entering into the fourth and final preseason game without a lot of quality plays on tape can negatively affect a player’s performance with all of the pressure that comes from that situation. If a couple of Buccaneers reserves can step up and star on Saturday in the third and fourth quarters it can create some momentum heading into the preseason finale against Washington and perhaps earn an unheralded player a roster spot.
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