Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds went back and reviewed the tape of the Buccaneers' preseason opener at Tennessee and offers up this insight and analysis.
FIRST QUARTER • The Bucs were definitely missing starting center Jeff Faine as Sean Mahan, his replacement, got blown up by Titans defensive tackle Tony Brown on Earnest Graham's first carry, which was for two yards. Mahan didn't necessarily play poorly against Tennessee, but Tampa Bay's offensive line wasn't at its best because Faine was on the sidelines.
• One thing that is noticeable right away is that Tampa Bay's defense is much faster with players like Sabby Piscitelli and Quincy Black on the field. Tampa Bay's safeties and linebackers possess great lateral speed and quickness, and the tackling has been greatly improved from what we all saw in December, especially at cornerback as Aqib Talib and Ronde Barber both made great tackles on running backs along the perimeter.
• At first glance, it looks like Gaines Adams had a horrible night, but it should be noted that Kerry Collins' first pass attempt to tight end Bo Scaife was during a max protect situation with only three eligible receivers. The other tight end and Tennessee's running back stayed in to block along with the five offensive linemen. That's seven blocking four. Right off the snap, Tennessee's left tackle, left guard and halfback smothered Adams on the play. It's clear this year that teams are only concerned about Adams' pass rush. That means Jimmy Wilkerson and the defensive tackles inside will be getting 1-on-1 opportunities to rush the passer and must take advantage of those. Adams also has to be prepared to take on double teams and win some of those battles, too. An encouraging sign was that defensive tackle Ryan Sims got great penetration on the play.
• Piscitelli had a stellar night with two great, open-field tackles on tight end Alge Crumpler and running back Chris Johnson- not to mention his leaping interception in the end zone. Equally as important as his statistical success was the confidence and emotion that Piscitelli played with. He looked like the Sabby I scouted prior to the 2007 draft at Oregon State. Piscitelli has been labeled as a John Lynch clone by some, but the truth is that he's faster than Lynch, yet not the hitter the Lynch was. However, one thing Lynch and Piscitelli have in common is the fact that they are both emotional players. Piscitelli's play last year was robotic at times. Now he's playing with emotion and that's a good thing.
• Had Piscitelli not been there to pick off Collin's pass, Talib might have had a shot at it. Talib had suffocating coverage on Titans receiver Nate Washington on the play, which was good to see.
• One player who had a real disappointing night was new left guard Jeremy Zuttah. Zuttah, who is starting in place of Arron Sears, who is AWOL, got stood up and pushed back by Brown while tight end John Gilmore was blown up by defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch on a Graham run that was stuffed for a 3-yard loss. Zuttah allowed penetration, which is the cardinal sin in Tampa Bay's new zone blocking scheme – or any running scheme for that matter. A few plays later, Zuttah didn't get the reach block on the second level, allowing linebacker David Thornton to slip past and drop Graham for no gain.
• On the third-and-2 play in which Luke McCown was sacked, running back Derrick Ward was motioned out of the backfield, which tipped off Tennessee's defense that the play was definitely a pass. Was that the right strategy on third-and-2 for Jeff Jagodzinski? Probably not. Third-and-2 is a perfect down and distance to make defenses have to guess run or pass. On McCown's sack, rookie Marc Dile, who was subbing in for Davin Joseph at right guard, didn't pick up Brown's stunt at all and allowed him to come up the middle unscathed right into the quarterback's face. McCown's fatal flaw on the play, which was overturned due to a facemask penalty, was trying to throw the ball away, which resulted in a fumble. He's got to just eat the sack.
• McCown's 9-yard scramble in the first quarter came because Zuttah got stood up and rocked back in the pocket by defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson. Again, this was not Zuttah's finest hour of football. Credit McCown for making the most out of the play. It's too bad that his best two plays in the first quarter were running plays. Quarterbacks get paid to throw the ball.
• One thing about watching Dile is that he does not have the strength or bulk to hold up against the point of attack. Being 300 pounds is one thing. Being 275, which is what Dile is listed at, is another. The Bucs have some interesting players like Dile that I'd like to see be developed and play next year, but the team should really not want guys like Dile, Rob Bruggeman, Xavier Fulton or Demar Dotson seeing the field this year. That's a real problem for the Bucs. They don't have enough backups that are ready to play this year waiting in the wings along the offensive line.
• And speaking of the offensive line, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood did not fare well against defensive end Jevon Kearse and gave up a pressure on third-and-11 in the first quarter that forced McCown to throw the ball away.
SECOND QUARTER • Fulton, who surprisingly played three quarters of the game, almost gave up a sack to defensive end Dave Ball on Byron Leftwich's first throw. Leftwich's pass was nearly picked off by defensive backs Tuff Harris and DeMarcus Faggins.
• On Leftwich's second throw, which was a touchdown pass to Brian Clark, credit Clark for the score. Leftwich's pass was late and behind the receiver and Clark had to turn all the way around to make a great reception. Where Leftwich shined was pump-faking to the right to move the safety over to the middle of the field and then coming back to hit Clark on the left side. Dotson, who was in at right tackle, got pushed inside by left end William Hayes initially, but made a nice recovery to give Leftwich a clean pocket to throw from.
• Although he didn't register a tackle on the initial stats sheet, second-year defensive tackle Dre Moore got great penetration on Stylez G. White's sack of Collins in the second quarter. Moore flushed Collins right into White on the play and the right end sealed the deal with a 10-yard QB capture.
• On White's 5-yard tackle for loss on Johnson on the next play, rookie Kyle Moore got some great penetration from the defensive tackle spot, which forced the running back to back up and allow White to make the stop.
• Second-year return man Dexter Jackson is about done. He bobbled the ball on a punt return that was eventually wiped out due to the holding penalty on Craig Stevens that led to a safety. Free safety Tanard Jackson recovered the ball, but that fumble can't sit well with the Bucs' brass. That fumble is on tape – whether it got negated or not. In this writer's opinion, Jackson's chances of making the roster are slim to none right now.
• On one of the biggest non-plays of the Tennessee vs. Tampa Bay game, which was Leftwich's overthrow of Maurice Stovall down the middle, Hayes rushed from left end and beat Dotson inside to put some pressure on the Bucs QB. Stovall had a step on cornerback Cary Williams and without Hayes' pressure, Leftwich's throw might have resulted in a touchdown.
• On the next play, Dotson gets stood up and blasted back by Hayes, who pressured Leftwich and hit him. Leftwich was able to complete the pass to Derrick Ward for seven yards before he hit the ground. Dotson gave up some pressure against Tennessee, but didn't allow a sack. He held his own for the most part considering it was his first game as offensive lineman – ever.
• Tampa Bay's defense did a great job defending Vince Young's screen pass as linebackers Geno Hayes and Rod Wilson and defensive linemen Quincy Black and Kyle Moore got into the backfield extremely quickly on third-and-6 to force an errant throw. The speed that the Bucs have on defense in their "Go" package is night and day from what they had to work with last year.
• Fulton had some really good snaps on Ball in pass protection, but also had some bad ones. On a second quarter play, Fulton got beat inside initially by Ball, but made a nice recovery as Leftwich rolled left away from the pressure.
• Former Bucs defensive tackle Jovan Haye beat Mahan to hit Leftwich's left knee. Haye then came back with a ridiculous, 17-yard sack of Leftwich in which the Bucs QB has to go down and not take a huge loss like that. Fulton was beaten on bull rush by Ball, and along with blitzing linebacker Stanford Keglar, the rest of the Titans defensive front simply overwhelmed Tampa Bay's offensive line on the sack.
• Leftwich also needs to demonstrate much better touch on third-and-short passes. He threw three fastballs that resulted in drops in the second quarter when a slower, touch pass might have resulted in a couple more first downs for the Bucs.
• Rookie Marshall McDuffie had been moved to cornerback out of college, but was playing some safety in Tennessee and should have legitimately recovered fullback Ahmard Hall's fumble. Linebacker Adam Hayward's hit on the Titans fullback forced a fumble, but the officials ruled that the pass was incomplete instead. Televised instant replay appeared to show Hall fumble the ball.
• Both Dre Moore and Kyle Moore almost had a sack on second-and-8 with 1:30 left in half, but Young did a great job of getting rid of the ball and throwing it out of bounds towards rookie receiver Kenny Britt.
THIRD QUARTER • Bucs cornerback Kyle Arrington made a nice tackle on the perimeter to drop running back Travis Henry for a 2-yard loss.
• Rookie quarterback Josh Freeman almost threw an interception to Tennessee cornerback Tanard Davis on a pass intended for receiver Mario Urrutia. Freeman has the arm strength to rifle the ball to the sidelines on out routes, but must avoid staring down receivers.
• Bruggeman and James Lee, who was playing left guard in the second half and surprisingly not left tackle, opened up big hole for Kareem Huggins, who took off on a 19-yard run. Huggins had an impressive night, which will likely make it difficult for the Bucs to sneak him on the practice squad.
• Fulton had been having a decent give and take against Ball in the second quarter, but gave up a sack to him in the third quarter. Freeman has to take some responsibility, too. He either has to throw the ball away or really move to get outside the pocket to try to find a receiver downfield. Freeman appeared to be a bit lackadaisical on the sack.
• It's only one preseason game, but it looks like the Titans reeled in a mighty fine draft just based on the performances of Britt, the team's first-round pick, tight end Jared Cook and running back Javon Ringer. Tennessee's offense seems greatly improved from just one weekend back in April.
• Roy Miller had a great night at defensive tackle, but also turned in a fine play as a lead blocker on Jackson's kickoff return after Ringer's touchdown run. Miller showed great quickness, lateral movement and power on the kick return, which was the play in which Jackson sprained his ankle. Sammie Stroughter averaged 27 yards per kick return and had two special teams tackles. He's a keeper whereas Jackson is not.
FOURTH QUARTER • Freeman completely stared down receiver Pat Carter and was picked off by Ryan Mouton, who read Freeman's eyes and made a great jump on the ball. Again, he has to quit telegraphing his passes, especially on outs. Slants are a different story because the receiver is at least traveling to the middle of the field so the throw is shorter and scheduled to arrive sooner.
• Freeman shook off the interception and bounced back with a nice pass to Stroughter for a 20-yard gain. One of Freeman's real positives dating back to his days at Kansas State is that as he moves out of the pocket, his eyes are glued downfield and he calmly hit Stroughter in stride with a beautiful pass as a result. Later in the quarter,Freeman had his pass intended for Stroughter, who was running an out route, batted down by Davis on third down. Freeman clearly needs to work with quarterbacks coach Greg Olson on his outs so that he won't stare down his receivers and tip off opposing defensive backs.
• Anthony Alabi, who had been the backup right tackle throughout most of camp, was relegated to third-string on Saturday, spelling Dotson in the second half. Alabi was in at right tackle, flanked by Julius Wilson at right guard, Bruggeman at center, Lee at left guard, and Fulton at left tackle.
• Arrington battled Titans receiver Lavelle Hawkins for a ball downfield. Arrington, who has surprisingly struggled in training camp after a great run during the OTAs, played better in the preseason opener than he had in any practice at One Buc Place this summer.
• Stroughter made a very good decision to try and not field the ball on a short punt in the fourth quarter. So many times young players try to do too much or impress that they will run up and try to field the ball on the fly, only to have the ball bounce off their shoulder pads and into the arms of one of their opponents. Not only did Stroughter make a good decision in not fielding the punt, he also told his teammates to stay away from the ball.
• Johnson came in during the fourth quarter and showed remarkable poise in handling a bobbled shotgun snap that disrupted the timing of the play. Johnson showed great instincts to tuck the ball and run 43 yards for a touchdown off left tackle. The reason for the bobbled snap was that Bruggeman snapped the ball too early, which was obvious as Johnson wasn't ready for it and Lee and Fulton were both late off the ball and remained in their stance for a second after the ball was hiked.
• Almost as impressive as Johnson's touchdown run was the touch he put on his successful two-point conversion pass to tight end Ryan Purvis. Johnson threw the ball up to Purvis, who jumped over a nearby defender to come down with a two-point play for the Buccaneers. Purvis has no shot of making the Bucs roster this year, but plays like that could land him on the practice squad as a developmental player or maybe on another team's roster.
• Rookie safety C.J. Byrd has not had a great training camp and he probably hurt his cause with a very bad pass interference penalty on a third-and-19 situation for the Titans. Byrd hit the intended receiver too early and gave the Titans 30 free yards and a much-needed first down. In fact, after that play, the Bucs defense couldn't get the ball back with over 5:00 left in the game, which led to Tampa Bay losing by a touchdown.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com