Buccaneers vs. Patriots 2013 Preseason: Five Players to Watch on Defense

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots face off tonight. Here are five players to keep an eye on for the Tampa Bay defense.

DE Da'Quan Bowers

Bowers appears to be the latest black sheep in the Tampa Bay family. He was expected to take over for Michael Bennett, who left for relatively little to join the Seattle Seahawks. Instead, he's been a disappointment to Greg Schiano, who has made it a point to say that in nearly every press conference for the past week.

Some of that criticism was a little unfair, though. Bowers didn't look bad at defensive end in the first preseason game, but they kept using him as a three-technique tackle. And yes, he got stonewalled repeatedly at that position -- but that isn't exactly his natural position, so who can blame him?

Of course, it's not just disruption that we want to see. Schiano has specifically criticized Bowers' effort -- so look for Bowers' effort level as well as his quality of play. If you can discern effort level on tape (I'm not sure anyone can).

DE Adrian Clayborn

The big man is returning from injury, and he punctuated that return by hitting Tom Brady. In practice. With an offensive lineman. Oops. Still, that bodes well for his performance this year. If any one play in training camp can bode well for an entire year, at least.

So are we going to see Clayborn return to form? Can we see his violent movements and powerful pass-rushing skills on display again? Remember that while Clayborn was good, he was never truly dominant as a rookie, and he didn't shine in the limited time he had in his second year, either. But if we can see a good performance out of the defensive end, at least some of the concern over the pass rush should be alleviated. A little.

S Dashon Goldson

The other big name added to the roster this offseason, Goldson is easy to forget. But he'll be playing against Tom Brady tonight, which means he'll have to be very disciplined in coverage. He's generally the deep safety where Mark Barron plays closer to the line of scrimmage, and his reactions to Brady's play will be interesting to see.

People have criticized Goldson for what they saw as a poor performance in coverage during the playoffs, but having watched those games, I think most of that criticism was unfair. Goldson was just a little too often at the wrong place at the wrong time, but he wasn't playing poorly. He still has something to prove, though.

LB Jonathan Casillas

Dekoda Watson is ahead of Casillas at strongside linebacker for now, but that may not last long. Casillas was all over the field with the second string defense against the Baltimore Ravens, and reports suggest he's surging in training camp, too. Can he turn the position battle into a real competition this week?

CB Rashaan Melvin

The undrafted rookie cornerback had a decent debut last week, but he wasn't stellar and lost one ball in the air, leading to a touchdown. It happens. But can he bounce back? He won't be going up against great wide receivers -- the Patriots don't have any quality wide receivers, really -- but a good performance will certainly help land him a roster spot. Schiano on his part was complimentary of the cornerback after last week's game.

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