Training camp is now a wrap and teams and players are starting to get into regular season NFL practice schedules, workouts, and game preparation. However, that doesn't mean there's not alot left to be decided on the field in the next few weeks. Some players who didn't get the start last week will get looks with the first team tomorrow against the Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium, ala Sean Jones. Also, we'll get to check out the Buccaneer debuts for a couple of players who've been dinged up, including Brian Price. Price has been limited in camp by a hamstring injury that kept him from traveling to Miami last weekend.
Also, Saturday's matchup will be a bit like watching the Buccaneers look into the mirror and play a team that's rather similar to the Bucs in many ways. The Chiefs ranked 31st in the NFL against the run in 2009, one spot ahead of the Buccaneers. They are relying on a pair of young, highly-drafted defensive linemen in Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey to stop the bleeding in the run defense. They'll be using Saturday to feel out their stable of running backs which features the one-step-slower but saavy veteran Thomas Jones and speedster rookie Dexter McCluster behind starter Jamaal Charles. They're looking for improvement in the second year of their franchise QB Matt Cassel.
So what will I be watching for on Saturday?
1. The Tampa Towers of Terror vs. Chiefs' offensive line
Yea, I don't know about the name, but......ah, bear with me. At long last, we're going to see what these guys can do against live NFL competition in a game atmosphere, with crowd noise, snap counts, the stomach butterflies, etc. Gerald McCoy drew constant double teams last week, giving Roy Miller some one-on-one looks. If Price gets that opportunity, based on the way he's been dominating in practice, he might have a chance to make more of a dent than Miller did last week in a similar matchup. If Price wreaks a little havoc and the Chiefs adjust, we'll get to see what McCoy can do in one-on-one blocking. That'd be compelling football in itself, even though the Chiefs offensive line is not considered to be particularly strong. Basically, one of those guys is going to be in one-on-one coverage unless a tackle gets involved and the Chiefs put a TE on the end. Even if that's the case, that's an advantage for the Bucs. I'm also interested to see if Barrett Ruud will be a beneficiary of a successful push from the line and if he can make some impact plays.
2. The nickel CB battle between E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis.
Bigs came up big last week, with a TD-saving tackle inside the red zone, a red zone fumble recovery, a pass breakup on Brandon Marshall, and 4 total tackles. That's a pretty impressive first impression from a guy who missed basically all of 2009 with a shoulder injury and is seeing his first live action since. He can really make himself a near-impossible-to-ignore option in the secondary with another impressive performance. Meanwhile, Myron Lewis will be making his debut and getting a chance to show what he can do in a game setting. Lewis made a pick-6 in practice on Wednesday, so he looks to be getting healthy and up to full speed.
3. Will Derrick Ward back up his big talk?
Ok, Derrick. You arrived to training camp in a Lamborghini......yet you're miles behind a Cadillac. Step your game up. Ward should get plenty of looks on Saturday and really isn't in jeopardy of losing his roster spot, as I think he's well ahead of Clifton smith for the RB3 spot. However, he could be in danger of losing the confidence of his coaching staff after his sulking behavior after, and uninspiring performance during, the game on last week. Derrick really needs a good game on Saturday.
4. Can either Micheal Spurlock or Clifton Smith make a splash play in the return game?
I don't see any way both of these guys make the roster, as they are both buried on their respective depth charts. Although I think one of them will make the 53, it is conceivable that neither player might make the roster with guys like Huggins, Benn, Stroughter, etc., capable of returning the football. As such, if one of those guys can break a long return or two, maybe make a house call, that'll certainly be a feather in his cap and a leg up in the competition for a roster spot.
5. Will Stroughter continue to impress at flanker or will Benn/Brown step up?
Although he's more of a natural fit in the slot, it appears Stroughter could be working his way into starting the season as the team's flanker. However, according to Morris, they're looking at Reggie Brown or Arrelious Benn at the position, but Stephen Holder believes the undertones are there that Stroughter will start the season there. Whatever the case, it'll be interesting to watch how all 3 guys perform on Saturday and who will leave a solid impression.
So weigh in, Bucs Nation. What will you be watching for on Saturday?