The Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the New England Patriots tonight in Raymond James Stadium. The game won’t be televised in Tampa, but if you live outside the area, have tickets, or know of a good work-around, I’m sure you’re getting pretty excited for tonight’s matchup. Preseason or not, football is back and in Tampa the excitement over the upcoming season couldn’t be more tangible. So let’s start previewing tonight’s matchup, starting with five things to watch for…
1.) More of the Starters
I expect the Buccaneers to leave the first team in a little longer than last game, most likely between a full quarter and a half’s worth of action, depending on the player. While it’s still not known if guys like Kellen Winslow and Arrelious Benn will see action, you can expect most of the first team to at least get several series with the greener players (rookies, guys without a ton of game experience) stay on the field even longer.
While I don’t expect Josh Freeman to stay in the game too long (why risk his health?) I do expect the rest of the first team to stay in a bit longer while Josh Johnson comes in to get some reps with the first-string guys. As I mentioned last week, the Bucs would like to get something in exchange for Johnson before he walks away at the end of the season. Defensively, the Bucs should stay on the field a bit longer if just to test themselves against the high-powered Patriots offense. Tom Brady is expected to play, so the Bucs D should get a good test.
2.) Da’Quan Bowers, Round Two
Once again, keep an eye on Da’Quan Bowers who enters this season with a boulder on his shoulder and seems to be gaining confidence in himself and his knee on a daily basis in camp. Bowers should see a little more time than last game and I expect him to find some rhythm and really put some pressure on the quarterback. I’ve also read from a lot of college outlets that Bowers was more of a gamer than a practice players, which likely means the Buccaneers haven’t seen anything yet. Look out for Bowers to make a statement in one of the preseason games this year, last week he didn’t get as many reps as he’d have probably liked but with a bigger workload and a challenging offense like the Patriots on the field against him, look for Bowers to bring his A-game and try to make a statement tonight.
3.) The Return Game
Michael Spurlock will forever be loved by Buccaneers fans for his prolific returns and for running back the first kickoff in team history, but the Bucs have a couple of guys who are challenging for the return job and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bucs go with a speedier player this season and let Spurlock concentrate more on making the team as a receiver. Preston Parker (formerly of the Seminoles) and Jock Sanders (a Tampa native from WVU) both bring a ton of speed and agility to the Bucs and could represent an intriguing possibility as returners. Sanders, who comes from St. Pete, will be playing in front of his friends and family for the first time as a Buc in Raymond James tonight and should get some chances to return kicks in the second half.
The guy I’m more intrigued by though is Parker, who made the team last season as UDFA and will look for ways to expand his role this season. Parker is an exceptional athlete, he has elite agility, great speed and can be an absolute terror in the open field. Don’t be surprised if Preston Parker takes over the return duties this season and even cracks the lineup at receiver from time to time. Ability is not the issue with Parker, it’s making sure he stays on top of his responsibility and plays instinctively rather than over-thinking. If he can handle that he could be a pleasant surprise this year.
4.) Dezmon Briscoe
I mentioned in the offseason not to sleep on Briscoe, especially with Arrelious Benn coming off an injury. Last week against the Chiefs, with Benn out, Briscoe took advantage of the extra reps to the tune of four catches for 60 yards. Briscoe came on late last season thanks to Benn’s injury and finished the season with a four reception game (including a beautiful TD) against the Saints in the Superdome. He seems to be building on that success so far this year, he’s had a great camp and is looking to continue to make an impact in tonight’s preseason game. Look for Briscoe to have another big night and look for him to challenge Arrelious Benn for the number two receiver job by the end of camp. I will not be surprised if the Bucs enter the season with Mike Williams and Dezmon Briscoe as their starters.
5.) Mason Foster
Mason Foster had a solid game last week, but gets a little bit too much credit because he was in the right place at the right time to pounce on a botched snap. I’m not belittling the play or Foster’s game in general, I’m simply saying he didn’t have as much of an impact as a lot of fans want to allege he did. I expect Mason to be the man in the middle when the season starts but it’s important to be realistic in our expectations of the young man. Watch Foster closely tonight, in fact when the Bucs are on defense take your eyes entirely off of the football and just watch Foster play. Trust me, the replays will show you what happened with the QB and you’ll know where the ball goes, but you can’t actually get a good read on a player unless you devote a series or two specifically to focusing on their play alone. Watch Foster make his reads, see if he maintains his gap responsibilities and how he looks in pass coverage. That’s the only way you’ll have a good idea if he’s really ready to tackle this role as the Bucs middle linebacker. Because just watching him pounce on a fumble is hardly a good sample size.