The NFL preseason has already kicked off. About a third of the teams have a game under their belt, including our next opponent, the Tennessee Titans. But for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Saturday marks not only their first live game action this year, but their first action since last year's collapse, Gruden's firing, Kiffin's NFL retirement, Derrick Brooks' ousting, Raheem Morris' hiring, and installation of new schemes on both sides of the ball.
The team we see on Saturday night will look nothing like we saw at the end of December last year, and will look nothing like the team that takes the field on September 13th, I hope. The preseason is where roster spots are won or lost, starting jobs are claimed, and kinks are ironed out. With game one on the horizon, it's key to remember this is a practice game. Score does not matter, but rather the evaluation of talent and getting live reps is the holy grail in the preseason game.
Let's take a look at some of the storylines and stats going into the game.
Tennessee has the advantage of already having a game played, putting them about a week ahead of us schedule wise. Their young players have already been under the bright lights, their starters have started to knock some of the rust off, and Vince Young has already found some more excuses.
The Titans are coached by 15th year man Jeff Fisher. Their offense is predicated on the run, with two big time backs in Lendale White and Chris Johnson. CJ is the starter and is the quicker of the two backs while Lendale is the ground and pound guy, though he has lost some weight this offseason. Kerry Collins is the returning starter and leads a modest passing attack. Collins is not spectacular but steady and is comfortable making any throw. Behind him are two guys with NFL starting experience fighting for the backup job. Patrick Ramsey seems to have a leg up, if nothing more than his steady, poised nature. He is of course battling once ballyhooed draft pick Vince Young, who is trying to reclaim his Longhorn magic.
The Tennessee defense was a stingy unit last year, ranking 6th against the run and 9th against the pass. Their DVOA (if you're unfamiliar with this stat, check it out here) in total was -16.6% (5th in the league) with a -19.3% against the pass and -12.9% against the run. (Note: A crude description of DVOA is that it shows the value over an average player/team at that position. This shows that Tennessee's defense was 16.6% more valuable than an average D). Of course, that all changes with Albert Haynesworth exiting the team for Washington.
Tennessee beat Buffalo in the first preseason game and looks ready to roll into week 2. There's The first team for Tennessee will probably see 3-4 series of action, and then giving way to backups. Ramsey and Young will enter the game earlier and continue to compete for the back up spot.
Top Story Lines - Tennessee
The Vince Young storylines continue to be the focus in Tennessee. A #3 overall pick was spent on the Longhorn QB and though he did lead his team to the playoffs in 2007 it's been downhill since then. Another story line is the departure of Haynesworth. The big money man in the middle left as a free agent for Washington, leaving Tennessee to find a new anchor for it's defensive line. Enter ex-Buc Jovan Haye. Another look is at the Titans WR corp who have been, sub par to put it mildly. They spent their first round pick on Kenny Britt, a WR from Rutgers to fill the void.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it's the first step of a new era. No longer will scowl faced Gruden be pacing the sideline. Instead we will be treated with young, energetic Raheem Morris. Kiffin will no longer be barking at the defense, giving way to Jim Bates. And for the first time in years, the Bucs have an offensive coordinator, former Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski. With new coaches come new schemes and Saturday will be the first test and live action that any of our players see with the new sets. Morris has said that Leftwich and McCown can expect to see 12-15 snaps each. Cadillac Williams will be held out of the first two preseason games. He is not injured, but coach Morris doesn't want to overwork him.
The Bucs will try to wash away memories of a dismal final four game stretch. Most of the memories have been purged as players and coaches alike are gone. A look back at their 2008 season shows a defense that ranked 9th in total defense, 4th against the pass and 19th against the run. DVOA ranks the Bucs D at -7.3% (overall), -10.5% against the pass and -3.9% against the run. Those numbers will all go out the door as the Bucs transition from a Cover 2 base to a 4-3 Run Contain defense.
Also on the defensive side, a slew of changes take place. Goodbye Derrick Brooks, Jovan Haye, Philip Buchanon, Cato June, and Jermaine Phillips (sort of) from the team or starting lineup. Welcome Jermaine Phillips, Ryan Sims, Aqib Talib, Quincy Black and Sabby Piscitelli. It will be interesting to note as the season goes on how quick Bates is to adapt (i.e. bring pressure). His predecessor, though fundamentally sound, seemed apprehensive to bring the heat too often.
On the offensive side of the ball, there are question marks everywhere. Moving from a West Coast offense that seemed to thrive on the 4 yard pass on 3rd and 6 to a run based play action team. To continue with the Hello/Goodbyes, the departures are Jeff Garcia, Arron Sears, and Alex Smith with Luke McCown/Byron Leftwich, Jeremy Zuttah and Kellen Winslow replacing them. Co-featured backs Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham look to be the focal point of the offense, with the passing game running as a compliment off the ground game.
With this being the Bucs first game, and my mental block of the Oakland game, there won't be a look at a previous game.
Top Story Lines - Tampa Bay
I'll do my best to keep this brief. We all know the new coach, new coordinators, new system story lines (if not, feel free to read any article I've ever written). The other stories will focus on position battles. The primary battles are at quarterback with Luke McCown getting first crack at starting, Byron Leftwich in the back up role and The two Josh's (Freeman and Johnson) getting the majority of the snaps. Defensively, Black, Hayes and Phillips are fighting for a starting spot, and the entire defensive line, minus Gaines Adams are looking for a leg up on the competition. The kicking battle is still heated with the Nug and Bryant battling it out.
As the Bucs have no games, there won't be a statistical comparison between the teams. A quick look at Tennessee's stats show Collins at 7/10 for 82 yards, Ramsey at 8/10 for 72 yards and Young at 5/10 for 39 yards 1 TD 1 INT. The running game wasnt working against Buffalo with the leading rusher being Chris Henry with 6 carries for 23 yards. Leading receiver is Alge Crumpler (who looks massive) with 3 catches for 32 yards.
The Titans will be missing Kevin Mawae (center) with Bo Scaife, Nick Harper, David Thornton and Kyle Vanden Bosch as Probable.
The Bucs will be without Antonio Bryant, Angelo Crowell, Michael Clayton, Josh Bidwell and Jeff Faine all out.
As this report is the day before the game, the list may change.
Things to Watch For
- How many reps do the Bucs starters get
- How does Boy Wonder (Freeman) do in his first action
- Will the running game get going when it's starters vs starters
- Can Jermaine Phillips step into the LB spot
- Will our defensive line hold up, or will we miss Haynesworth like Tennessee might
It's tough to predict meaningless games, but with Tennessee already having a game under it's belt, I think it gives them a leg up. My meaningless prediction is Tennessee 24 - Tampa Bay 17.
(Editor's note: This is preseason for the staff also. If there are other looks, pieces of info or segments you want, let me know. I figure a look at each team, their injuries, stat leaders, team stats, and stories on each side of the ball should work, but as always, I'm open to suggestions).