The pre-season came to a merciful end in a rainy game versus Washington, and things are mostly positive surrounding the Buccaneers. However the preseason illuminated a few potential issues going forward.
For the most part the Buccaneers had a successful pre-season campaign. They avoided a slew of major injuries, escaping with just a few nicks and bruises but overall healthy. Some bubble players managed to stand out and may have earned roster spots. Most importantly, quarterback Jameis Winston looked sharp and noticeably better from last season. There were some negatives, however, which could hurt the Bucs going into their regular season game versus Atlanta. Three in particular stood out.
Roberto Aguayo isn’t invincible.
Aguayo was brought in by the Buccaneers to be the savior of the Bucs inconsistent kicking game, and expectations could not possibly have been higher entering training camp and preseason. An up-and-down training camp was chalked up to “it’s just practice”, but once the games started it became clear that Aguayo was susceptible to pressure and nerves just like the rest of us human beings. Aguayo whiffed on his first extra point attempt versus the Eagles and then missed two field goals against the Jaguars. The following week of practice was similarly difficult for the rookie kicker, and suddenly the city of Tampa found itself on fire with concern.
To Aguayo’s credit he finished the pre-season rock solid with two games of perfect kicking, one of which came in the middle of a monsoon. Still, it has to be a little concerning that Aguayo struggled so mightily and how well he holds up to the pressure of regular season kicking will be on the minds of all Buccaneer fans come September 11th versus Atlanta.
Potentially vulnerable run defense?
I’ve written previously about how this Buccaneer defense appears to be the best one we’ve seen in Tampa since the glory days. Yet still, they’re not without their weaknesses and run defense looks like it potentially could be one.
Against the Eagles the Buccaneer defense was gashed a couple of times by Ryan Matthews and a couple more times by back-up Kenjon Barner. The following week against the Jaguars, Chris Ivory was able to find room to run as well. In their regular season dress rehearsal versus Cleveland, Isaiah Crowell ran eight times for 39 yards, a 4.9 yard-per-carry average. Finally in the brutal pre-season finale against the Redskins, the Bucs defense was again gashed by multiple runners in Mack Brown and Robert Kelley.
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Now, it should be noted that this is of course pre-season football; starters like Clinton McDonald and Daryl Smith were in and out of the lineups and the defensive looks given by defensive coordinator Mike Smith were vanilla and ordinary. On top of that, the Bucs were actually pretty good versus the run last season, finishing 9th in rushing yards allowed per game, a surprisingly high mark considering how otherwise terrible the defense was.
The Bucs rush defense will be tested early this season against dangerous running-backs like Devonta Freeman, David Johnson, Todd Gurley, C.J. Anderson and Jonathan Stewart, so we’ll quickly learn whether this issue is merely a thing of the preseason or something legitimate to worry about.
Still no kick return threat.
There’s little hope at this point that the Bucs will field a competitive kick return game this season. That was the case before the pre-season started, and is afterwards as well. The Bucs trotted out multiple players in Kenny Bell, Bernard Reedy, Donteea Dye and Ryan Smith, but none impressed.
Donteea Dye came closest to securing the starting job but ultimately got injured and waived, keeping the position in flux. This seems to be the surest preseason problem to translate to the regular season, and you can be sure that the Bucs will be closely watching for any return specialists that get cut in the coming days.
Overall, it’s hard to complain about the Buccaneers pre-season. No team is perfect and without it’s issues and the Bucs are fortunate to have very few glaring ones.
Keep a close eye on players cut – especially from other teams – in the coming days, as this period has been described as a second free-agency for general managers to swipe players who were miscast for other teams.