It’s difficult to evaluate any unit during preseason, as they’re constantly rotating and getting accustomed to competitive action. And that was especially the case for the defensive line Saturday. Nevertheless, lets take a look at the starting four. Aside from an early offside penalty on Gerald McCoy they looked pretty solid against the Viking’s Adrian Peterson-less running game, holding Jerrick McKinnon and Matt Asiata to a combined 16 yards on nine attempts. Teddy Bridgewater was getting the ball out quickly in the early moments, but still, the Buccaneers would like to see better pressure from the ends. Highlights included a sack by Henry Melton and a two-point conversion stop from George Johnson. Lawrence Sidbury was the standout among D Lineman, though. The seventh-year pro is trying to revive his career in Tampa, and after a great start in camp, he showed some ability Saturday night with a forced fumble, fumble recovery and a QB pressure. As Scott Reynolds wrote in “Most Impressive Bucs,” Sidbury should push starters Jacquies Smith and George Johnson for playing time this season.
Linebackers were arguably the Buccaneers strongest unit Saturday night, and Lavonte David was arguably the best player. The highest-paid 4-3 OLB was flying around during his brief playing time, tallying three tackles including one for a loss that energized the defense. Bruce Carter and Kwon Alexander each looked good at the Mike spot, particularly against the run while Josh Keyes earned praise from Ronde Barber during the late moments of the contest. Of all the reserves, however, it was Khaseem Greene who stood out the most. The Rutgers product tied for the team-lead in tackles with five, and made the awareness play of the game when he forced a fumble through the end zone in the second-half that avoided a Vikings’ touchdown.
GRADE = B+
Although the secondary struggled as a whole Saturday – Vikings QBs finished a combined 27-of-33 passing – the starting cornerbacks had a few promising moments in the first quarter. Alterraun Verner made a great play in run support, while Johnthan Banks managed to break up a deep pass to the end zone in single coverage. Banks’ play, however, was the only notable deflection as all three Vikings’ quarterbacks were efficient from the pocket. Third-team safety Chris Hackett, an undrafted free agent, had a bad night in coverage while the Bucs hope to get better play from South Florida product Mike Jenkins in the future. Overall, too many uncontested completions from Tampa Bay’s backend.
From kick coverage to kick return to field goal unit, the Buccaneers special teams unit has seen better days. Outside of the obvious missed assignments in coverage, rookie wide receiver Kaelin Clay made two costly decisions while fielding a kick and punt, and Pat Murray had an uncharacteristic miss from 42 yards out. As for the punters, Michael Koenen and Karl Schmitz both started out shaky (Schmitz had one 25-yarder), but they were able to clean up a bit toward the end of the game, each booting a 50-yard plus punt in the fourth quarter. In a regular season game, however, the early shanks could’ve proven to be very costly.
GRADE = D-
Jameis Winston’s rocky start and solid finish during his NFL debut has been well-documented. After a few early misfires that included an interception, the rookie quarterback put together an impressive nine-play 76-yard scoring drive during the second quarter. He also was effective outside the pocket when scrambling. Although Lovie Smith alluded to Winston needing to learn how to slide, his running plays showed great pocket awareness to avoid edge pressure on one occasion, and score on another. Winston finished the contest 9-of-19 for 131 yards and one interception. As for Mike Glennon, the third-year pro looked good checking down to Mike James, as well as finding Robert Herron and Adam Humphires for another three competitions. Glennon ended up 9-of-17 with 98 yards and should’ve had better stats if not for a couple drops. Seth Lobato had limited action in the opening week of preseason, but was efficient completing 2-of-3 passes for 24 yards. Look for Lobato to get more reps during Week 2 and 4, in which he’ll likely get an opportunity to audition for a spot on the practice squad or another team’s roster.
The plan to get Doug Martin the ball early on was evident, as the fourth-year pro took the Bucs first four plays from scrimmage for 19 yards and looked really sharp. Martin has had a great camp, and continues to look like his 2012 self which is a great sign for Tampa Bay’s running game. Bobby Rainey had some nice carries, finishing with five for 20-yards, while Charles Sims had a reception. The star among backs on Saturday, however, was Mike James and not because of his ground performance. The Miami product was Glennon’s favorite target, catching four passes for 34 yards and a touchdown. Dominique Brown also saw time, but the former Cardinal, who stands 6-foot-2, 240-pounds, will probably need to show a little more in the short-yardage game to make this crowded backfield.
The offensive line had moments of success, particularly among the guards, but not a great night overall. From poor center to quarterback exchanges from Garrett Gilkey to Donovan Smith whiffing on Vikings edge rusher Everson Griffin on his first snap, the five-man front needs to clean up a bit. That said, head coach Lovie Smith excused some of the underwhelming play for first-game jitters. Smith also said Donovan Smith started to improve as the game progressed, and to Smith’s credit, he held up well during the first scoring drive. Ali Marpet had an impressive debut, as the Hobart star seemed in control of his assignments throughout the night. Marpet could be seen on one occasion picking up the Vikings crossing stunt, which is something the Bucs have worked a lot on during isolation battles in camp. The story along the O-Line, however, was Demar Dotson. The 6-foot-9 tackle was clearly in pain after injuring his knee in the second quarter, leading him to getting carted off the field. Many were afraid the injury could be season-ending, and while the MRI and diagnosis haven’t been confirmed, Lovie Smith sounded confident that it was only a sprain and Dotson would return eventually. The Bucs will know more about Dotson’s status on Monday, but for now expect Kevin Pamphile, Patrick Omameh and Reid Fragel to see increased reps.
From Vincent Jackson’s diving 40-yard catch to Robert Herron and Adam Humphries coming up big late in the game, the Bucs receivers as a whole made some nice plays. There were, however, a few poorly run routes as Lovie Smith would point out during his Sunday press conference. Two of Winston’s more notable misses came on throws to Mike Evans, one of which was picked and the other behind target. And while many saw those attempts as the rookie’s mistake, there could have been shared blame on part of Evans and a couple of missed holding calls on the Vikings. No one’s panicking in preseason, though, especially when it involves 2014 sensation, Evans. The offensive star of the game, however, was Louis Murphy. The former Gator returned recently from an ankle injury and looked to be in midseason form Saturday night. Murphy finished with four catches for 54 yards and was the recipient of Winston’s best thrown ball that came on a seven-yard out, eventually setting up the Bucs first touchdown in 2015.
Tight ends were relatively quiet Saturday, which is expected given the lack of passes and playing time for starters. Austin Seferian-Jenkins was held without a reception, while Cameron Brate, Brandon Myers and Luke Stocker each recorded just one catch. Stocker’s lone catch was impressive, though, as the fifth-year tight end kept his footing and ran 18-yards up the sideline. Stocker also made a few key blocks, as did Seferian-Jenkins early on. Dirk Koetter has a reputation for utilizing tight ends frequently, but Week 1 of preseason was simply about finding rhythm, not so much implementing the game plan.