The 2015 regular season is officially upon us. Tampa Bay capped off the exhibition month with a 22-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins, but more important than the win, were the individual performances that will be closely evaluated over the next 24-hours. Find out how each position group graded out on Thursday according to PewterReport.com and share your thoughts.
It was an up and down night for Mike Glennon, as the third-year pro looked particularly good throwing to Adam Humphries but made too many costly errors. He was responsible for two under-thrown INTs, the second of which in the red zone. Glennon, who’s normally conservative with the ball, is still a top backup but should’ve fared better Thursday against second- and third-teammers. He finished 11-of-20 for 141 yards and a TD. Seth Lobato entered the game in the third quarter and after hitting his first throw to Rannell Hall for a 26-yard gain, he slowed down and finished with just one more completion (2-of-6 for 22 yards). Lobato was, however, the victim of a couple drops and poor protection at times.
Another slow night on the ground for the Buccaneers, as lanes were scarce and running backs failed to make much happen. Charles Sims still looks new to taking handoffs and hitting a hole, finishing with zero yards on five carries. Sims’ athleticism is evident by how he comes out of the backfield and looks natural in the passing game, but the second-year pro hasn’t displayed the ability to take a handoff. Bobby Rainey had a few nice carries at the end of the first half, grinding out multiple attempts for three-to-five yards en route to 27 yards on 11 handoffs. And Mike James once again put together a solid outing, getting the majority of work in the second half and breaking off a 25-yard run on first down in the third quarter. It’s all but certain the Bucs will keep all three running backs heading into the season, along with starter Doug Martin.
As many expected, the undrafted wideouts – Adam Humphries, Rannell Hall and Donteea Dye – are going to give the coaching staff and front office tough decisions over the next 24 hours. Humphries came out of the gates firing, showing good chemistry with Glennon and catching four passes for 62 yards and the opening TD. The Clemson product also had a few solid returns, though he did let two go over his head and land inside the 10-yard line. If he wins the return job, he needs to improve judgement and save the offense 10-plus yards with a fair catch. While Hall came up empty on his first three targets, the UCF product got it together and caught a couple of Glennon’s passes and another from Seth Lobato for a 26-yards to open the second half. Dye also put himself in the stat column with 2 catches for 36 yards. Similar in size and stature, all three undrafted receivers are fast and agile and are legitimately challenging drafted rookies, Kenny Bell and Kaelin Clay, for a roster spot. At one point, Ronde Barber asked “Can we get this man a jersey already?” when praising Humphrie’s performance.
It was another relatively quiet night for tight ends, as Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Brandon Myers were given the night off. Cameron Brate was targeted once early by Glennon but had the games first drop. It’s tough to criticize Brate, who’s known more for his pass-catching than run-blocking ability, after only getting a few looks, but he should come up with the easy catches in order to find his way into Dirk Koetter’s tight-end friendly offense. Brate made a few nice blocks, but finished with just one reception for two yards.
While they performed well at times throughout the night, it wasn’t a great showing overall for the offensive line and a few players in particular. Kadeem Edwards was at the receiving end of a blown up play, when DT C.J. Mosley ran past the second-year guard to sling shot a linebacker at Bobby Rainey for a loss on the run. Edwards fared better in pass protection, but as an interior lineman, he has to drive players off the line a little better in the run game. Matthew Masifilo struggled at times in protection, at one point getting beat by Mosley who forced an early and off target pass. On the edge, Edawn Coughman played nearly the entire game (Donovan Smith and Kevin Pamphile out) and his fatigue was showing towards the end. Blocking fresh defenders, Coughman failed to pick up a couple linebacker blitzes around the edge and gave up a sack to DT Anthony Johnson. The five man front didn’t get a strong push or open many lanes for running backs in the early stages of the game, either. Sometimes it takes early momentum to carry the unit through the rest of the night and the O-Line didn’t start fast.
The Buccaneers defensive line did not get off to a good start, as Miami’s O-Line was making life easy for running backs Mike Gillislee and Jay Ajayi in the first half. While Will Gholston was able to force his way inside a few times, he was never there to make the stop and didn’t have much help from Da’Quan Bowers who was relatively quiet throughout the contest. Starting ends Lawrence Sidburry and Larry English also struggled, as the former was called for an early roughing the passer penalty and the latter was caught taking bad angles on multiple running plays, one of which resulted in a touchdown. The four man front was also held without a sack Thursday night and allowed way too much time for quarterbacks McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Josh Freeman.
Although the unit had some early issues covering the flats, it seemed all three reserve linebackers who started Thursday night came up with a highlight play. Jason Williams started things off, showing great awareness and athleticism on a play in the first quarter when he made a diving deflection into the hands of safety Major Wright for the INT. Then in the second quarter, it was Josh Keyes who racked up a few tackles, most notably in the running game after bailing out the gashed defensive line. The defensive play of the night, however, was Khaseem Greene’s 98-yard interception return in the third quarter. The Rutgers product read the QB’s eyes and dropped into coverage perfectly, before making a Sports Center Top 10 play to make a diving grab, get up and take it to the house. Greene also played well against the run, at one point recognizing a read option and tackling the QB for a loss. It seems whoever the Bucs put in at linebacker can pick up the slack and make an impact on defense, and that’s credit to coach Hardy Nickerson. All three LBs on Thursday, who normally play special teams, made a case for themselves to make the 53-man roster.
If everyone could’ve have covered like Alterraun Verner and swarmed the field like Major Wright, the secondary would’ve been lights out Thursday night. While the unit still had its impressive moments, they allowed way too many completions to “bubble” QBs and way too many yards to reserve wideouts. Verner had three breakups in the first quarter (one in the red zone) and Wright added a few tackles and an INT, but Mike Jenkins and Isaiah Frey could’ve covered a little better in the first and second half. The latter gave up a couple plays from the nickel spot, where it looks like he could be facing an up-hill battle with Sterling Moore and the recently acquired Tim Jennings, who Jason Licht said could potentially see time there. The best secondary player Thursday was Keith Tandy, but aside from a perfectly read interception and good return, most of his memorable moments came on special teams.
Starting with the obvious, it looks like the Buccaneers have found their new kicker. After Kyle Brindza drilled two field goals from beyond 50 yards, it’s tough to imagine a scenario where the Notre Dame product doesn’t earn the starting job. As for the other kicking specialist, Jacob Schum, who beat out Michael Koenen last week, dropped a few punts inside the 15-yard line and one inside the 10 that was muffed and recovered by the kicking team. He didn’t do anything to lose his spot Thursday. Speaking of that game-changing fumble recovery, Keith Tandy (the one who recovered it) looked like a man determined to earn a roster spot. Last Tuesday Leslie Frazier talked about reserve/bubble defensive players making their presence felt on special teams, and if Thursday night is any indication, ‘teams coach Kevin O’Dea will fight for Tandy, who was impressive on kick coverage, to be on the 53-man squad. That said, the Bucs kick coverage still needs work as they were bailed out on a Dolphin’s penalty after allowing a 108-yard kick return.