Week four of the preseason is predominantly a week where the backups get all the playing time to preserve the health of the starters. But with the roster cuts looming as each team has to go from 90 players to a 53-man roster, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians still has some room left to decide the final number.
The starters and second-string players are mostly set, but Arians said on Monday that there are still about 10 positions open on the 53-man team, and 10 on the practice squad when speaking to the media on Monday.
“That’s probably the number,” Arians said. “When you talk about six linemen, fifth backer, fifth corner, fourth corner when you go on a run and who’s on teams, there’s about 10 and than those ten practice squad spots for the guys that clear waivers.”
Many of the Bucs players that will participate in this game are seeing the most playing time that they’ve had all preseason. As they compete to fight for those final spots, nerves can play a part, but Arians plans to put his team in the best situation possible – by putting the focus on just playing and not thinking.
“The one thing about this last game is you always try to keep it as simple as possible,” Arians said. “So they can play fast and show you that they’re real athletic. You don’t want them out there thinking that part of it, you just want to see good one-on-one stuff all night and try to be as proficient as possible. Special teams, that’s where most jobs are going to be won in this game, somebody that covers a kick, maybe knocks a ball loose, does something big that gets you one of those last 10 spots or one of those ten practice squad spots. There’s a lot of spots up.”
One player set to have a lot of playing on Thursday night against the Cowboys is quarterback Vincent Testaverde Jr. The rookie out of Albany re-signed with the Bucs after Blaine Gabbert dislocated his shoulder against the Dolphins. Testaverde’s already been on the Bucs twice this season, once during the rookie mini-camp and then from July 28th to August 9th during training camp.
He’s had nine practices with Bucs in that training camp, and with the Bucs needing a quarterback on a short week, Testaverde’s knowledge of the system made him the right man for the game. Arians has worked with him to prepare him as quickly as possible.
“We talked about it today,” Arians said. “ I said ‘Give me 10 things that you can go out there and you know where the ball is supposed to go. He kind of knew the whole game plan, he’s going to go back through all his reads. He knows the routes, but he’s just going back through his reads and when it gets certain coverages where to go with it.”
Testaverde also appreciates the amount of help that the Bucs’ coach has given him in the short amount of time. He feels confident going into the game.
“He’s been giving me a lot of reps,” Testaverde said. “Just working on all the plays, working on getting those down, staying in my playbooks and I’m ready. I was here a couple weeks ago so I kind of remember a good amount of stuff, it’s good that he’s giving me my own kind of menu for the game. I’m still going to have to know the entire game plan, but I’ve been given my list of things that I feel really comfortable with and can stick to those a majority of the time.”
This has been a big week of returns for the Bucs as Justin Evans returned on Sunday with another three players coming back on Monday. Mike Evans, Jeremiah Ledbetter and rookie Anthony Nelson all returned to the practice field.
The question came about if Nelson, who’s been sideline for four weeks with a knee injury and yet to play in a preseason game, would be able to give it a go. But Arians wasn’t as confident about that as he was with Evans.
“I doubt it,” Arians said. “We’ll see how he reacts tomorrow and get another one tomorrow and then re-evaluate from there.”
For those that will be playing in the game and try to make one last big play to earn a roster spot, Arians had a simple message for how to make the team.
“Play your ass off Thursday night,” Arians said. “Make me can’t cut you.”