It’s here, the Bucs’ fourth preseason game. Fans are just one week away from seeing meaningful football in Tampa Bay, but this game is always bittersweet because team’s starters are generally held out of the game league-wide.
This is the preseason game, if they watch any at all, that casual fans tend to skip, but you’re not a casual fan. You care about those positional battles in limbo as cuts are looming closer, the entire roster from player one to 90, from Beau Allen to Jameis Winston. For you, these are the key things to look for on Thursday night.
Can Tanner Hudson diversify his game?
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Hudson has become a fan-favorite this preseason, leading the Bucs in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns with 17 catches for 226 yards and two scores.
This has led to widespread speculation that he’s a shoo-in to make the 53-man roster, but it’s a crowded tight end depth chart behind O.J. Howard, Cam Brate and Antony Auclair, and Hudson has some glaring weaknesses that need to be improved upon if he wants to ensure himself a roster spot. To make the team he has to do more than catch the ball, especially when he’s not one of the top options at his position. Hudson must improve as a blocker and prove that he can be an asset on special teams, but should recent injuries to Brate and Auclair linger, it may open a door for the second-year tight end to stick aroudn.
Who wins the fifth cornerback spot?
With M.J. Stewart playing a bit of a hybrid role between nickel corner and safety and Ryan Smith dealing with a four-game suspension to start the season, it opens the door for a young cornerback to come in and earn that final spot in the secondary.
Bucs DBs MJ Stewart and Carlton Davis – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
With Vernon Hargreaves, Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting presumably taking control of the top four spots, that leaves fourth-year player De’Vante Harris and rookie Mazzi Wilkins. Both players should have ample playing time against the Cowboys so if either can find a way to stand out, it could turn the tables in that competition.
Can Cairo Santos flip the kicking competition?
The Bucs have struggled find stable performance from the kicking position for years, but with Santos and Tampa Bay’s fifth-round draft pick Matt Gay both having great training camps and preseasons, the team finds the themselves with a good problem.
Gay has the advantage when it comes to leg strength and on top of a 55-yard field goal in Pittsburgh, he’s hit game-winning field goals in consecutive preseason games against the Dolphins and Browns. With that said, he’s missed multiple kicks within 45 yards in training camp and missed one from 37 yards out in last Friday’s game. It would likely take a stellar performance from Santos as well as something to impact the trust the Bucs’ staff has in Gay to put Santos in the driver’s seat, but Thursday night will be both players last opportunity to make a statement.
How will the wide receiver depth chart shape up?
After the acquisition of Breshad Perriman this off-season it was assumed that Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Perriman would man the top three receiver spots with second-year Justin Watson and sixth-round draft pick Scotty Miller rounding out the final two spots. But here we are just a week away from the regular season starting while Watson has failed to stick out, Miller missed the Bucs’ first two preseason games and Bobo Wilson is showing that his experience and impact on special teams could play a key factor in the third-year receiver making a surprise push for a spot in the rotation.
WR Scotty Miller – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
With Vincent Testaverde taking the lion’s share, if not all, of the snaps at quarterback on Thursday it may not be the optimal situation for the three young receivers to stand out, but all three will enter the game with things to prove and their futures in Tampa Bay possibly on the line.