Which players will have a chance to play themselves onto the roster this week? With a roster cut down to 75 players looming on Monday, and another to 53 players after the fourth preseason game, plenty of backups will have to show up in the coming two games to earn a roster spot. Five backups who I'll be watching tonight:
In the first week of preseason football, Tiquan Underwood exploded with 3 catches for 76 yards. In the second week of the preseason he disappeared and had no catches. That wasn't really his fault - Orlovsky was constantly under pressure and inaccurate all day long. But the fact remains that Underwood wasn't very productive, and if he wants to carve out a big role on the team and live up to his offseason hype, he needs a game tonight.
DE/DT E.J. Wilson
Wilson didn't jump off the screen in the first game, but he was much better against the Miami Dolphins. Wilson is a third-year player who spent all of 2011 on injured reserve, but he has a chance to get on the field as the third defensive tackle this year. With Okam and Gibson not doing much so far and Okoye constantly limited with injury, the team could use a good Wilson. If he does well today, he should make the team.
DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim
This former third-round pick for the Philadelphia Eagles was one of the many defensive ends the Bucs picked up during the season last year. And surprisingly, he has actually shown up on game footage consistently as a pass rusher. I don't know if he'll get a lot of opportunities if he does make the team, but everyone knows the Bucs could use a productive pass-rusher, and Te'o-Nesheim has the talent to become just that. If he can show up as a pass-rusher today, look for him to make the team and get some snaps throughout the regular season.
LB Dekoda Watson
Watson will make the team. The question isn't if he'll make it, but how many snaps he'll take. If he does extraordinarily well, he could even take over for Quincy Black as the starter at outside linebacker, though that seems rather unlikely. Still, the third-year pro should be able to put some pressure on Black, and hopefully, the quarterback. That's where he's most likely to get on the field early and often: as a specialized edge rusher. He looked great during last year's preseason in that role, but struggled to make an impact throughout the regular season. In part, that happened because he was just a one-trick pony: he had speed, and very little power. If he can develop some counter moves, though, he could be very effective. He needs to show some more versatility today.
The Bucs picked up Shipley off waivers, and they need to see if he still has any kind of speed. He's competing with Preston Parker, Sammie Stroughter and Tiquan Underwood for snaps - but he has to make the regular season roster, first. He needs to make an impact on special teams to make the team, and he needs to show that he still has some speed and cutting ability. He was a productive slot receiver two years ago, but has he gotten over his knee injuries? That's a question he has to answer in an NFL game today.