21 snaps. That's how much playing time Josh Freeman has received this season, and he had one more completion than sacks in those 21 snaps. That's hardly a useful way to evaluate a quarterback who's entering the final year of his contract, and who could be entering his final year as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.
But this week, we should see extended playing time for Freeman. Indeed, last year, the Buccaneers had the first-team offense playing into the third quarter of the third preseason game. That kind of playing time should finally give us a good idea of whether and how much Freeman has improved this year. Reviews in training camp were generally positive -- but seeing it on the field, against a different defense, with live contact, is a whole different ball game.
Carl Nicks won't play against the Dolphins and it's even doubtful whether Davin Joseph will suit up. Joseph should be fine for the regular season, but it's possible Nicks misses a couple of games during the season. So it's relevant to see who will play in his spot: Ted Larsen, Gabe Carimi, Jeremy Zuttah or someone else entirely?
Not only that, but we need to see how those players do. Are the Bucs going to struggle without Nicks, or can they find a decent replacement? The interior line held up well for most of the season without Nicks last year, but it really became a problem toward the end of the year.
Backup Running Back
We still don't know who will take the snaps behind Doug Martin, who might not play this preseason game either. Mike James got the majority of carries and even third-down duties last week, but Brian Leonard dominated the first preseason game and Peyton Hillis hasn't looked bad, either.
Hillis is unlikely to make the final roster given his negligible special teams value, but Mike James and Brian Leonard should both get a shot -- and perhaps even Michael Smith can get in on the action.
Luke Stocker has looked, well, useless in preseason so far. His blocking has been suspect and he's done nothing as a receiver. Not that Tom Crabtree has been much better -- but at least he has been better. That's not a great compliment, but he's at least looked decent.
So the question now is: will Crabtree win the starting job, or will Stocker? And how do they look? Can they block in the run game, and act at least as a threat over the middle in the passing game? Having a reliable tight end would make things a lot easier for Josh Freeman.
Remember him? He had a rather disastrous first preseason game after being hyped up quite a bit during training camp. We saw his raw talent, but drops and mistakes in route running limited his opportunities. In the second game, he didn't even register a single catch (of course, he was injured, but still). If he wants to make the roster and carve out a role this season, he will have to show up in a big way in this third game.
Dotson is going to get one hell of a challenge this week: he'll face Cameron Wake, him of 15 sacks last year. Wake's a top-notch pass rusher and while Dotson has had a good preseason so far, he'll get all he can handle tonight. If he can stop Wake, we'll know the Bucs have a great right tackle on their hands. And if he can't -- well, he won't be the first player.