Early miscues by the special teams and offense didn’t make the first quarter easy on defense – but the unit settled in and turned in a solid performance Thursday night.

Coach Dirk Koetter said at halftime the defense looked “fine” and after the game took it a step further by saying, “It’s hard to find too much fault with the way out defense played tonight.” The first-year head coach added that he was encouraged by what he saw and fans should be, as well. Read how each unit graded out according to PewterReport.com and share your thoughts.

The four-man front led the way in an impressive defensive performance by the Bucs Thursday night.

Robert Ayers “was a beast out there,” said coach Dirk Koetter, and Clinton McDonald came through on a third-down sack in the first quarter, set up by second-round pick Noah Spence, who Koetter said was ready for the main stage. Ayers should’ve also been credited with a safety on the first play of the second quarter, if not for the league’s loose interpretation of intentional grounding.

With the exception of the Eagles first two drives – both of which began off Bucs’ turnovers inside the 20-yard line – Gerald McCoy looked the part of an anchor in the middle. And reserve players Akeem Spence, in a contract-year, and Cliff Matthews, a sixth-year pro signed away from Atlanta, picked up right where McCoy and McDonald left off. Spence recorded a sack and Matthews served as a clog against the run and certainly made a case for a roster spot. Howard Jones also turned in a nice performance, recording three tackles and a sack Thursday night.

The unit pressured Chase Daniel and Carson Wentz throughout the game and responded well in sudden change situations after the first quarter.  Tampa Bay’s D-Line should get another spark when Will Gholston returns to the lineup.

Typically, as the defensive line goes, so goes the linebackers. That was the case in Week 1 of the preseason.

Koetter said of Lavonte David, who had four tackles, including one for a loss on a screen pass from Daniel to Josh Huff, “You would expect that.” In David’s limited action, he looked like his usual self. Kwon Alexander, meanwhile, had one tackle and did nothing to raise doubt about his expected emergence as a star linebacker.

Leading the team in tackles was former William & Mary standout Luke Rhodes, who recorded five. Koetter mentioned in him in OTAs as a promising undrafted rookie, and he likely didn’t change that perception after his first NFL game. Other linebackers to keep an eye on are Adarius Glanton, who had one tackle, and Devante Bond, the Bucs sixth-round draft pick who nearly had a sack in his first game. Micah Awe, who Mike Smith noted as a standout in camp, also had two tackles and appears to add solid depth to the Bucs linebacker corps.

In all, the Bucs held Philly to 92 yards rushing and no runs of longer than 10 yards. Much of the credit belongs to the linebackers.

First-round pick Vernon Hargreaves III had a chance to start his career off with a bang (even if it was just a preseason game) but he dropped an easy interception after reading the play perfectly. In the future, Koetter said plainly, “Hargreaves has to catch that ball.” Good thing it was only the preseason and he’ll have plenty more changes.

As for the starters, Alterraun Verner and Brent Grimes were hardly noticeable and that’s a good thing. In their limited time, Bradford and Daniel completed, at most, five passes for around 10 yards. Jude Adjei-Barmiah also showed why he’s making Hargreaves earn reps at nickel corner, as the second-year pro recorded two tackles and covered well.

Johnthan Banks showed grit in staying with a play in the third quarter to pry the ball away from Eagles receiver Chris Jones. The forced and recovered fumble was called back, however, when Akeem Spence was called for roughing the passer. A tough break, to be sure, but one the Bucs simply can’t afford in the regular season. Banks finished the night with two tackles.

Josh Robinson, a former third-round pick out of UCF by Minnesota, is another player to keep an eye on. He’s performed well in camp, but at 5-foot-10, he’s built very similar to the top three other corners in Tampa Bay. Height, alone, may give the 6-foot-2, long-armed Banks an advantage if the competition comes down to those two. Sometimes it’s good to have contrast in your defense.

Eagles QBs finished 18-of-36 for 104 yards and no touchdowns. Rush and coverage was working together for the Bucs Thursday night and it reflected in the stat column.

Like the starting cornerbacks, it was a relatively quiet night for Chris Conte and Bradley McDougald. Conte assisted David on the screen pass that lost a yard, displaying his usual tenacity while racing to the ball-carrier, and McDougald recorded one tackle on the night.

In a night to evaluate newcomers and lesser-known players, Isaiah Johnson came up with the play-of-the-night for the safeties. The undrafted rookie from South Carolina intercepted Wents’ pass in the red zone during the third quarter and returned it 35 yards to the Bucs 38-yard line. Numbers may be working against Johnson – Bucs likely to keep four safeties and Ryan Smith and Keith Tandy are front-runners for reserve rolls – but it was a good audition, nonetheless. He also had two tackles.

When the front seven is clicking and the cornerbacks are holding their own, it makes for a relaxing night for safeties.

There is no sugarcoating this one and after the game Dirk Koetter wasn’t even going to try.

Kenny Bell, trying to prove that he’s not just a camp star, fumbled the opening kickoff. Not exactly the start he was looking for in his second attempt at preseason football. “Special teams was really scattered,” Koetter said. “A horrendous, horrendous start fumbling the opening kickoff.”

Even more horrendous was the missed PAT off the left upright by Roberto Aguayo, the second-round kicker who never missed from under 40 yards in three years at Florida State. “You just can’t have it,” Koetter said. “Missing an extra point. You can’t have that. It’s just not good.”

It’s ridiculous to write him off after one kick (one that doesn’t even count), but this certainly puts the heat on Aguayo early. To his credit, though, he responded later in the game by drilling a 38-yard FG.

First game jitters appeared to have gotten the best of Bernard Reedy, too, as he muffed a punt in the beginning of the third quarter. Luckily, Adam Humphries recovered and probably cemented his role as the punt returner on the same play. Again, it’s never time to panic after the first preseason game. But the Bucs will likely spent a few extra minutes in the special teams period of training camp over the next couple weeks.

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About the Author: Zach Shapiro

Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders. Contact him at: zshapiro12@gmail.com
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