FAB 4. Bucs Preseason Recap
Tampa Bay’s starters were held out of Thursday night’s preseason finale against Washington. The Bucs vs. Redskins game featured perhaps a dozen or so players that will make the team’s 53-man roster in a reserve capacity in Tampa Bay’s 13-10 loss. Now that the preseason is over, here are some important things to consider.
• I spoke with several members of Tampa Bay’s starting offense this week and there wasn’t much concern over the fact that the unit scored only one touchdown in a combined six quarters of action over three games. The Bucs feel like they have the talent to flip the switch and put up points in Miami in the 2017 season opener.
“No, we’re not concerned at all,” Bucs wide receiver Adam Humphries said. “It’s preseason. We’re having a chance, an opportunity to work with the ones for one quarter or two quarters. We’re getting better each week we’re on the field and we know that September 10 is the real test to bring everything.”
For a team that scored 21 points or more just eight times last year and averaged just 22.1 points per game, which tied Tampa Bay with Seattle, we’ll have to wait and see if the Bucs have improved in that area or if they were being just plain vanilla in the preseason and holding their good stuff back.
• We saw the debut of Tampa Bay’s “13” personnel for an entire drive in Saturday night’s 13-9 preseason loss to Cleveland when the Bucs deployed one back – Jacquizz Rodgers – and three tight ends – Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard and Luke Stocker. Tampa Bay has played a good deal of “12” personnel this preseason, featuring one back, two tight ends and two receivers, but 13 is a personnel grouping that Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter likes to deploy, but couldn’t last year after the team abruptly released backup tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins after Week 2.
“You saw some 13 – that’s what we call it, 13 – out there,” Stocker said. “It’s always great to have that wrinkle in the game plan. Defenses are always going to have to struggle to find out how to line up to defend that. That’s something they have to prepare for in practice even if we only ran it five times in a game. The defense has to game plan for it and spend practice reps on it – whether we use it or not. It’s a good thing to have in our arsenal.
“Anytime you are in a three-tight end set it’s usually a run formation, so that sets up play-action perfectly. You’ve got three blockers at the tight end position that can slip out and become receivers at any time, and defenses have to account for that.”
Not only will Koetter run a lot of 12 personnel this year, but look for the Bucs to experiment with three tight ends in the 13 personnel set, too. Look for Tampa Bay to keep five tight ends on its 53-man roster. Brate, Howard and Stocker are locks, while Alan Cross and rookie Antony Auclair appear to be favorites for the final two spots.
“We have a really capable group of guys,” Stocker said. “It will be interesting to see how everything shakes out. We only have 53 guys that can make the team. I’m sure the guys upstairs are struggling with it just like you guys in the media are trying to figure out how it’s going to sort out. It’s a really good group of guys and throughout camp every one of us – from the oldest to the youngest – got better.”
• Bucs rookie safety Justin Evans played in the Bucs’ fourth preseason game, which is a clear indication that he needs more work on defense. It’s safe to say that Evans won’t be challenging Chris Conte for the starting free safety spot anytime soon. Evans was flagged twice for two personal fouls against Cleveland on the Browns’ game-winning drive. Evans, a hard hitter at Texas A&M, received a fine for one of the hits, but vows that it won’t change his aggressive playing style.
“I’m not going to let it change what type of player I am, but at the same time you have to modify it or you’re going to get called for penalties,” Evans said. “I thought the first hit I got called on, I didn’t think it was head-to-head. I slowed up because I didn’t want head-to-head. The second one, he made a call and he rolled with it, but I don’t think either one deserved a flag. I just have to look at things differently. If a guy is on the ground maybe just tag him off or go lower.”
Look for Evans to see significant playing time on special teams during his rookie year as he continues to learn the defense.
• The Bucs weren’t happy with their pass rush during the preseason as the starters only recorded two sacks – one by defensive end Noah Spence and another by blitzing linebacker Lavonte David.
“Any team that can get pressure with a four man rush is ahead of the game,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said. “I wouldn’t say that we have wowed anybody in that area in preseason. Some of that is timing. Just like offensive lineman working side-by-side in our games, those are the guys they work with. We haven’t been how we would like to be. We did a good job in Jacksonville of getting pressure, not necessarily getting home, but last night [against Cleveland] was not as good.”
Koetter actually said Tampa Bay’s pass rush was “non-existent” against the Browns. Bucs defensive end Jacquies Smith, who has been sidelined after knee surgery in August, said that Koetter’s words ring true.
“You should take it to heart because your job description tells you that you need to get after the quarterback,” Smith said. “If your head coach is saying you’re not doing your job, then yeah, you should take that to heart. You should feel a certain way, get to work and do something about it. The guys we have in this locker room are for sure working hard. Sometimes you don’t get the results you want, but with the guys we have in here there is plenty of talent. Guys are working hard to get ready and preparing themselves to go out there and play an ‘A’ game.”
Smith said that while the Bucs have given their opponents some vanilla looks and will be more intricate on defense with stunts and games once the regular season starts.
“This is the time where you want to work on things and see what you want to use for the season and what you don’t, so in that sense, yeah, a lot of stuff is vanilla,” Smith said. “But you want to go out and work yourself up so Week 1 there is no doubt in your mind. You are just letting it go. If you play at a high level now in the preseason you can carry that over into the regular season.”
If the Bucs’ pass rush can’t get revved up with a four-man rush, look for defensive coordinator Mike Smith to blitz linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David regularly, especially since Tampa Bay’s secondary is more capable of man coverage in the second year in his defense.