The Tampa Bay Buccaneers take the field for the first time since the final week of the 2013 season tomorrow. Finally, we have football again! Exhibition football, granted, but football nonetheless!
So who should we watch for tomorrow? The first preseason game traditionally doesn't see much action from the starters, but the backups will get a good workout. And the ones who shine only in training camp but wilt when they get in real game situations will get weeded out rather quickly. Who can adjust to the tempo, who can the next step? That's the question.
Let's get to the players we need to watch -- on offense, going from the starters to the back of the roster.
Those Returning From Injury
It's not at all clear whether Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph will get to suit up tomorrow and play a few snaps. But those few snaps could give us a good indication of where they're at in their recovery from a toe and knee injury respectively. Watch to see how they move and whether they dare to put a lot of pressure on their (previously) injured limbs -- if they get out there.
The third receiver
Will we see Kevin Ogletree, the favorite, take over as the slot receiver? Or will it be Tiquan Underwood, the incumbent? Or perhaps Chris Owusu has done enough in training camp to earn this nod, too. We'll have to see tomorrow, even if they won't get a lot of snaps.
Important thing to watch: where do the players line up? Vincent Jackson played in the slot a lot last season and the Bucs have continued that trend during training camp, so the third receiver will have to be able to play on the outside, not just in the slot.
The Third Down Back
We've heard surprisingly little about this position, but it's a crucial one. It can make or break a third-down offense. Brian Leonard seems to have a leg up here, but keep an eye on Michael Smith and even Peyton Hillis.
The Second Team
These players should get extensive playing time. Who do you need to watch?
Owusu has been very good in training camp, and although he's officially listed as a third-stringer behind Kevin Ogletree, he will at least come in on third downs with the second team -- or perhaps as a starter. Can he take the explosiveness he's shown in training camp into games? How do his routes look? Is there any tentativeness to his play after multiple concussions in college?
Carimi was awful last season, still struggling to return from a bad knee injury. Has he improved this year? Can he stay on his feet, can he kick, can he keep his base against power rushes and can he push back defensive linemen? He needs to answer some of those questions if the Bucs are to trust him as their main backup.
The Backup Running Back
Who will be forced to take over if Doug Martin goes down? Mike James seemed to have a good grasp on that role, but Peyton Hillis took some of his snaps when James fumbled the ball. How does the rookie look, anyway, if he even appears with the second team.
Glennon won't be challenging Josh Freeman this year, but if he looks good the Buccaneers may be more inclined to let him walk if he doesn't have a good year. How quick is Glennon in his drops and going through his progressions? How does he handle pass pressure? What does his accuracy look like? He'll get a good workout -- and if he does well, the Bucs may decide they don't need to hang on to Dan Orlovsky.
The third team offense will get plenty of time on the field toward the end of the game. Can any of the many, many backups stand out? And how do they do on special teams -- always a crucial factor.
The Returners and Special Teamers
One big question the Buccaneers have yet to answer is who will be returning kicks and who will be returning punts. Preseason should help settle that question, and anyone who stands out is likely to grab a roster spot. Can Michael Smith be good enough as a backup running back and kick returner to grab a roster spot? Which tight end will blow up special teams, thereby sealing his spot on the roster? Which receiver can contribute in any way? The bottom of the roster will have to show up here to make the team.
One intriguing player is Tim Wright. A former Rutgers wide receiver, the 6'4", 220 lbs. receiver was moved to tight end this offseason. He can probably catch -- but can he block as well? Can he provide a mismatch in the middle of the field, and can he perhaps even function on the outside? He could be an intriguing weapon if he develops.