Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo: Cliff Welch/PR
As coach Dirk Koetter said Tuesday, the preseason games, “especially the first one,” is a time for coaches to evaluate players. Fans and media try to do the same. And though it’s hard to judge a player’s performance in limited action, there were a few Bucs who made enough plays to stand out in the 17-9 loss in Philadelphia. Here’s the list of Pewter Report’s most impressive players Thursday night.
QB JAMEIS WINSTON
With the exception of a sack-fumble on first-and-10 during the Bucs second drive, Winston looked sharp thereafter in his limited action Thursday night. Down 14-0, the second-year pro remained poised and led Tampa Bay on a seven-play, 79-yard drive, capped off by a 26-yard touchdown pass to Russell Shepard. Winston finished the night 7-of-9 for 97 yards and a touchdown.
C JOE HAWLEY
It’s always difficult to single out an offensive lineman – for good or bad – but Hawley’s downfield blocking on a 26-yard screen to Mike James in the first quarter stood out. Tasked with facing Eagles starting defensive tackles, Vinny Curry and Bennie Logan, Hawley seemed to hold his own and win Round 1 of the Hawley vs. Evan Smith battle for starting center.
WR RUSSELL SHEPARD
In the beginning of camp coach Dirk Koetter said of Russell Shepard, “You can’t break that guy,” just when you start trying to write him off as a special teams-only-player. On Thursday night we saw why. Shepard came through for Winston on a 26-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter, and then for Mike Glennon on comeback route in the second that went for 30 yards. He finished the night as the game’s leading receiver with three receptions for 62 yards.
DE ROBERT AYERS
Ayers has been in the center of some chippyness at camp the last few days and he brought the same attitude to the first preseason game. Though he didn’t record a tackle, his pressure forced a couple early and inaccurate passes in the first quarter. Ayers, signed away from the Giants in the offseason, also should’ve had a safety on the first play of the second quarter, if not for a loose and barely called intentional grounding rule.
DE NOAH SPENCE
It was a solid night for the defensive line as a whole in the first half, and Spence looked the part of a promising rookie in his limited time. He helped create Clinton McDonald’s sack on third-down in the first quarter and brought pressure from the outside on a few other snaps. Spence, presumably in the mix for starting defensive end but will see plenty of time regardless, finished the game with one tackle.
DT CLINTON MCDONALD
McDonald is battling Akeem Spence for the starting nose tackle position, and though the latter had a solid outing (excluding a roughing the passer penalty), McDonald was arguably the Bucs player best defensive player Thursday. With two tackles and a third-down sack, McDonald, returning from a pectoral injury that sent him to IR in Week 7 last season season, showed promise that he can return to form in 2016.
Honorable Mention: Isaiah Johnson and Cliff Matthews
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: [email protected]
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