Training camp is over. The first game is under the belt. As we head into the second preseason game there is a lot at stake. Not only the learning and retention of new schemes and systems, but with Coach Morris stating that most of the depth chart (particularly the quarterback position) will be decided by the third preseason game, this is the last chance for players to put together solid film to be considered for any starting position. Both teams are trying to respond to a somewhat poor first outing and get headed in the right direction.
As the Bucs head up to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars, let's take a look at the storylines of the game and a few things to watch for as the game progresses.
Date: Saturday, August 22, 2009
Time: Kickoff at 7:30 PM ET
Where: Jacksonville Municipal Stadium (Seating capacity of 67,164)
Where to Watch: In the Bay area, WFLA-TV - Channel 8 (Brighthouse/Verizon) or 508/608 in HD (Brighthouse/Verizon)
Where to Listen: 103.5 FM or WDAE 620 AM
The Jags are coming off a down season, mainly due to their inability to stop the run and the loss of half their offensive line to injuries. Their top two picks went towards offensive line in hopes of building some depth and re-establishing the run game and protection of the quarterback. After going 5-11 year, the Jags are looking to get back to being a top tier team in the AFC.
A new identity should be forming as Fred Taylor is gone, making way for Pocket Hercules aka MJD aka Maurice Jones-Drew. He will be asked to carry the load as "the guy". Backing him up is former 'Nole Greg Jones and Rashad Jennings. The wide receivers are a mainly unknown and young group, with the exception being free agent signing Torry Holt. Holt may not have the YAC ability anymore, but should be a solid possession guy. Running the show is David Garrard. After a stellar 2007 season that had the media praising him and Del Rio (for sticking with Garrard over Leftwich), 2008 was a return to Earth. A slightly better than 1:1 TD to pick ratio won't get it done this year. When Garrard gives way, we'll be treated to Todd Bouman. I think it's safe to say that the Jags need Garrard healthy and upright. The OL had a ton of injuries last year and has to remain healthy for the Jags to have a chance to win a few games this year.
The defensive unit has seen some slippage. First round pick Derrick Harvey remains an enigma, and Quentin Groves, starting left end may not have the size needed to play with his hand down. Their secondary does have playmakers in Rashean Mathis and Reggie Nelson, and while they have great ballhawking skills, must work on positiong and reading plays and avoiding the mental lapses that plagued them last year. You can run against the Jags, so look for the Bucs to exploit that. The Jags have been seen as a defensive stalwart in the past and look to get back after a slip in 2008. They were 17th in 2008 in total yards allowed, while ranking 24th against the pass and 13th against the run.
The Jaguars lost their first preseason game to the Dolphins in a shootout, 12-9. Jacksonville couldn't find the endzone, relying on 3 field goals for their scoring. While it's early, the turnovers (two picks, neither by Garrard) and penalties (11 for 98 yards) have to be a concern. This will be their second game and first home game. On a side note, will be interesting to see how full the stadium is. In fact, some Jacksonville media are already reporting a full blackout for all 10 home games this year. Yikes!
Top Story Lines - Jacksonville
The most notable is MJD taking over the starting role. While he always was a featured back, this time there is no Fred Taylor to help with the workload. Will he be able to withstand the touches given to him? Garrard looks to rebound, which will depend on how and if the O line can protect him. A lot of hype has been fed to Rashad Jennings, this will give a good glimpse into a potential back up to MJD. Who will catch the passes? Holt is here, but with leading receiver Matt Jones leaving, someone else needs to step up. On defense, can Nelson and company rebound from a down year? For other news on the Jags, head over to Big Cat Country.
We find the Bucs stumbling into this week on the heels of a suspension and arrest. Getting back on the field should prove to be a good thing for the team. The Bucs will continue with the installation of the new schemes and look to make some progress on that front, as well as solidify the lineup. The rookies and young players know this may be the last chance they have to hit the field and show their worth. The first game really didn't show too much in terms of progress. If nothing else, it created some bigger questions and fueled the pessimism surrounding the team.
Coming off a better than expected performance against Tennessee, the defense looks to hold serve and continue shutting down the opposing team. The goal for this game should be consistency, particularly from week to week and then from first team to second team. The pressure on the quarterback has to be ramped up, no questions there. The secondary may also be cut in half, as T-Jack and Talib both appear ready to play, but Morris will need to find out what kind of depth we have at those positions as we know Jackson is out the first 4 games and it looks like Talib will miss a game or two. Look for Elbert Mack and Torrie Cox to try and step in to fill the voids left by Talib and T-Jack. I'd like to see some consistency from the linebacking corp also. Quincy Black needs to translate his camp hype to game performance.
There's just no good place to start here. The offensive line has to block someone and help out the running game. With Faine likely out, Mahan will be the guy again, and that doesn't bode well for the Bucs. Leftwich will get the start against his old team and looks to lock down the starting job. McCown will try to rebound from a pretty bad performance and Johnson and Freeman continue to look for playing time to show their worth. The first string tandem of Ward and Graham need to get going and this looks like the optimal time to do it. At wide receiver, we should have Clayton back, but beyond Stroughter, we have more questions than anything else. Brian Clark could claim the 3rd WR spot this week with a strong performance. It all starts up front, and while many say it takes half a season to learn the new zone blocking scheme, I'd just like to see progress.
The loss to Tennessee seems like a long time ago, but nonetheless, we're 0-1. The Bucs were able to limit the Titans on offense, but their inability to get anything going on the offensive side, coupled with an untimely pick 6 from Freeman cost the Bucs the game. The good news is, the team did show positive signs in the loss. A better than expected defense, and some flashes from all QB's minus McCown
Top Story Lines - Tampa Bay
From a team standpoint, the top story lines are can the offense get going, and will the defense continue. On a player basis, it's the Jackson and Talib story. Who will step in and how much will it hurt us? A fair amount of playing time and starting jobs are on the line as Morris has said and confirmed repeatedly that most of the depth chart will be decided before the first home preseason game. The QB battle should end on Saturday, witha winner declared in the next week. The pressure is on, who will step up?
Players To Watch
- Luke McCown - This may be his last viable chance at winning a starting job here (or anywhere else).
- Bryan Clark - Will he step up and claim the 3rd WR spot?
- Stylez G. White - Had an excellent first performance in the new scheme. Will need to continue it
- Elbert Mack and Torrie Cox - For reasons listed above, will need to show they can fill in when/as needed.
- Mario Urrutia - A late addition to the Bucs, he has a chance to show his size and speed will fit well with the Bucs.
Things to Watch For
- How will Leftwich do in his return to Jacksonville?
- The entire first string offense, but mainly the offensive line with the new scheme.
- Will Jacksonville's OL be able to contain the pass rush?
- How Talib, Jackson and the team handle the latest commotion
- Does Josh Johnson really have a chance at making the team?
- Will there be any fans in the seats for the game?
Update: Dexter Jackson and Will Allen did not make the trip.
Always tough to predict who wins these meaningless games, but I think Tampa and it's defense play well and the offense does enough to win. We'll call it Bucs 20 - Jags 17.
(Editor's note: This is preseason for the staff also. If there are other looks, pieces of info or segments you want, let me know. I figure a look at each team, their injuries, stat leaders, team stats, and stories on each side of the ball should work, but as always, I'm open to suggestions).