FAB 4. SR’s Notes On The Bucs’ Preseason Finale
With Tampa Bay’s preseason finale at Dallas being on a Thursday night, I didn’t have time to do a 2-Point Conversion and finish this week’s SR’s Fab 5, so I’ll finish off this column with some notes from the Bucs’ victory over the Cowboys.
• It was great to see two young Bucs defensive players really help their causes with tremendous performances in Dallas on Thursday night. Defensive lineman Patrick O’Connor had three tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and a QB hit against the Cowboys, and finished the preseason with 14 tackles and two sacks. I had him making the final 53-man roster in my prediction last week, and his performance on Thursday should have solidified that.
I also had inside linebacker Jack Cichy make the 53-man roster, and he had a tremendous performance with four tackles, one tackle for loss, one QB hit and one fumble recovery. Cichy finished August with 13 tackles, one sack, one QB hit, his fumble recovery and a pass breakup.
That’s quite a feat coming back from a torn ACL that he suffered last October.
• Rookie running back Bruce Anderson finally showed up in the preseason and may have snagged a spot on the practice squad. Anderson had underwhelmed in the first three preseason games. Anderson missed the first game at Pittsburgh due to injury, but had just three carries for three yards and one catch for six yards in the team’s win over Miami.
Against Dallas, Anderson racked up an impressive 70 yards on 20 carries (3.5 avg.), including a team-high 20-yard run, and scored a touchdown. The Tampa native (Newsome High School) also had one catch for seven yards. That might not be enough to keep him on the Bucs’ 53-man roster ahead of Dare Ogunbowale and Andre Ellington, but Anderson needed this performance to potentially earn a practice squad spot in Tampa Bay.
• Cornerback De’Vante Harris dropped two interceptions in Dallas that would have helped his cause for making the 53-man roster. Rookie cornerback Mazzi Wilkins has forced two fumbles in the preseason, including one against Dallas that stopped a potential Cowboys scoring drive. But Wilkins missed a key tackle on Jalen Guyton’s 69-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, which didn’t help the USF product. Harris had great coverage on Dallas’ ensuing two-point conversion, which was no good and preserved the win.
The Bucs will need to keep a fifth cornerback for the first four games until Ryan Smith is eligible to return from his four-game PED suspension. Both Wilkins and Harris are good options for depth and this one could be a toss up on Saturday afternoon.
• Matt Gay locked up the kicking duties in Tampa Bay with an impressive showing in the preseason finale with an extra point and a 53-yard field goal. That was Gay’s second field goal from beyond 50 yards in August. Gay, the team’s fifth-round pick, finished the preseason 5-of-6 (83.3 percent) on his field goal attempts and was 3-of-3 on his extra points.
Not only did Gay show off his big leg in the preseason right off the bat with a 55-yarder at Pittsburgh, he also drilled two game-winners in victories over Miami and Cleveland. Gay’s competition, veteran Cairo Santos, was 2-of-2 on field goals and 2-of-2 on extra points in the preseason, but doesn’t have the leg strength that the rookie does.
Gay will stay in Tampa Bay as the Bucs’ kicker this year, but Santos will get picked up elsewhere and will be kicking for another team in Week 1. If general manager Jason Licht is smart he’ll call the New York Jets and see if he can get a seventh-round pick for Santos as the Jets have really struggled with field goals this preseason.
• Tampa Bay tight end Tanner Hudson finished as the second-leading receiver in the preseason with 19 catches for 245 yards (12.9 avg.). New England receiver Jakobi Meyers just edged him out with 20 catches for 253 yards. But Hudson led the entire preseason with a league-high three touchdowns, including his first quarter TD at Dallas.
More importantly, Hudson might have secured himself a roster spot as the fourth tight end due to his superb receiving ability. His only problem is that he is a below average blocker. Will the team give him time to develop as a blocker and add more muscle in the weight room? Hudson has shown too much ability to stash on the practice squad for another year.
• Bucs third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin only played in the first quarter of the team’s win in Dallas on Thursday night, but it was enough to give him the preseason passing title. Griffin completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 744 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions – both of which came against Dallas and were fluky in nature.
General manager Jason Licht has always believed in Griffin, and the 29-year old Tulane product won over head coach Bruce Arians and the coaching staff in training camp and the preseason. He’s earned a spot on the 53-man roster – even with Blaine Gabbert’s shoulder injury.
• The Bucs went 3-1 in the preseason with the team’s only loss being a 30-28 loss in Pittsburgh in the preseason opener. Preseason records mean little and success in August doesn’t automatically translate into a successful regular season.
Yet for a team that needed a culture change and needed to learn how to win, the fact that the Bucs had come-from-behind victories in each of the last three preseason games is a mentality that Tampa Bay can build on come September.