Similar to last week, this one hurts to type. Noah Spence is an extremely easy kid to root for and the type of redemption story that makes sports great, and the 2018 season is the perfect stage for the stories’ third act. With four games of the preseason in the books, however, I’m beginning to have my doubts about what we’ll see this season.
In last weeks’ dress rehearsal Spence saw minimal action, which was the first real sign of worry for me – if the team had big plans for Spence this season, wouldn’t they have him running with their first team defense?
Then, this week, Spence played the majority of the game with the third and fourth-teamers, which solidified my concern. Were we watching Spence battle for a roster spot? If he was, the results weren’t exactly comforting. The third-year pro finished with just three tackles in the game and seemed to get stonewalled consistently on his rushes against backup linemen.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Spence finished the preseason with just four tackles and a half sack. Though the Bucs are no doubt disappointed with it, I would still be surprised to see him lose his roster spot. Tampa has been starved for pass rushers for an eternity, and I doubt that the arrival of Curry and Pierre-Paul is enough to make them cast out a young player with the physical upside of Spence.
Hopefully, Spence and new defensive line coach Brentson Buckner can figure out a plan to get the most out of the young pass rusher this season.
The Entire Reserve Offensive Line
I know this is cheating, but I don’t know any better way to put it. The entire backup offensive line for the Buccaneers is lacking, and for the fourth straight preseason game, they allowed a constant stream of pressure upon the quarterback and very rarely opened up lanes for the running backs.
It’s not fair to pick on one guy because truly as a unit they haven’t been able to cut it, and it got especially bad against the Jaguars.
The quarterbacks were under duress constantly during Thursday nights preseason finale, resulting in their worst collective game of the preseason. Ryan Griffin – who already isn’t the best with a muddied pocket – noticeably saw more pressure and was a little more off target than the previous three games because of it. The run game had flashes, but it came mostly on crafty runs from Shaun Wilson and Dare Ogunabolwe. With Ronald Jones in the game, it seemed as if the running back owed his offensive linemen some money or stole one of their girlfriends, because the pressure was relentless.
Provided the starting five of Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Caleb Benenoch and Demar Dotson stay healthy I think that the Buccaneers will have a line strong enough to keep the offense consistent and explosive.
Staying healthy on the offensive line is far from a certainty, though. Already we’ve seen Smith flirt with disaster when he got rolled up on from behind in practice. Keep your fingers crossed, Buccaneer fans.
I’m not going to use this space to rip Ronald Jones more than he already has been. His ugly preseason stat line has been recited constantly across Twitter and fantasy football websites and his weaknesses as a player are well known.
Many of the people reciting Jones’ stats are doing so without watching the actual games, so it’s important that I add some context. Remember that terrible backup offensive line I mentioned a minute ago? Their failures were never more evident than when Ronald Jones was running the football.
Truly, Jones has rarely stood a chance on his carries, getting stuffed in the backfield immediately after touching the ball. On one carry last night I was actually impressed with Jones’ ability to just get to the line of scrimmage after eluding two free rushers in his face.
With all that said, it’s impossible for me to pretend that Jones’ stock hasn’t dipped a bit with the Buccaneers. He’s simply not being considered as a third-down back even with the injury to Sims, and as a traditional running back, he doesn’t have the same consistency or experience that Peyton Barber does.
Here’s the good news: it’s not the end of the world if Jones doesn’t contribute this season. Tampa is going to be a pass-heavy team regardless this season, so having a stable of three rotating backs probably isn’t the worst idea as Jones continues to develop consistency as a pass catcher and blocker.
That’s it for the preseason week four stock report. We’ll be back next week with the first regular season stock report after the team’s opener against New Orleans, so be sure to stay tuned for that and more from the Pewter Plank!