Earlier today, JC gave us a list of 10 things to watch for during tonight's preseason game between the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This will be the first real football played by the Bucs during Greg Schiano's tenure, and there are a lot of different things to watch for. But as usual, I don't watch preseason games for the result or the overall scheme: coaches hold back, and given Schiano's extreme secrecy regarding his schemes this offseason I wouldn't expect him to run a lot of interesting schematic things. Rather, I watch preseason game to evaluate individual players. With that in mind, here are six players I'll be watching closely tonight: three on offense, three on defense, split over the first, second and third string players.
RB Legarrette Blount
This is easy, but I expect Blount and Martin to get a decent number of carries tonight, and I'd like to see how they do. I know what I can expect from Doug Martin, but I do not know what to expect from Blount. The latter has been inconsistent in his NFL career so far, but has supposedly made some big strides this offseason. Supposedly, Blount is now in better shape than he was in previous years, he has worked on his abilities as a receiver and as a pass-blocker. If all of this shows up during the game, he could vie for the starting job.
FS Ronde Barber
For the first-string defense, I want to see how Barber does at his new position. The veteran has never played the safety position before, and he's always been a gambler as a cornerback. The position demands more physicality, though that shouldn't be a problem for Barber. More than that, it requires him to play it safe and not get baited by quarterbacks. Of course, he'll be facing David Garrard, so how big of a problem will that really be?
I'm kind of cheating here, but I'm expecting Dotson to play with both the first- and second-string offense. If he does, he'll get a lot of time on the field. More importantly, he'll be faced with the task of stopping Cameron Wake - no easy feat given Wake's 28 sacks in three years in the NFL. Can Dotson keep Wake in check, and can he be productive in the running game? If he looks good, there's a chance he takes over for Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle this year - or in the future.
Pass-rushers are in demand, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers don't have a lot of them. Johnson is a former Rutgers player who looked pretty decent in limited time last year, and he'll get a chance to strut his stuff as the backup to Adrian Clayborn this year. The Bucs have little depth along the defensive line, but if Johnson looks good, at least they know they have a quality backup at right end.
Yep, Underwood is listed as a third-string receiver on the depth chart. He should mostly see the field with the second-string, though, but I'll still be watching him. Underwood has been the star of training camp, and his speed should be a real threat to defenses. But can he translate that speed and training camp performance to the field?
Cody Grimm has seen his past two season end on injured reserve and is now running with the third string as the strong safety, behind Mark Barron and Larry Asante. I really liked what I saw out of Grimm during the 2010 season, when he was decisive and impactful, mostly as a run defender. He didn't look like the same player last year, which may have been because he was coming back from a broken leg. This year, he's returning from a knee injury, which is usually harder. Grimm seems to shine when the games start, but he'll have to shine quickly this year if he wants to stay on the roster at all.