It's finally here - Football is back, albeit the exhibition kind. I might be the one person in the entire world who actually enjoys watching pre-season football. As a football junkie, I like to scout out the young talent and find that Tom Brady or Marques Colston that may not be on anyone's radar.
While practice is certainly a terrific evaluation tool - nothing substitutes a true game type situation. The crowd is hyped, you're hitting an opponent in another color and you aren't exactly sure what they'll throw at you (of course in the regular season that opponent is fully scouted so you better know what they're throwing at you).
It separates the competition. We've seen those guys who wow you in practice but thud during the games. What's the old adage? Practices like Tarzan, plays like Jane.
So while I'm certainly excited to see Freeman and the boys get after it again - my gaze is focused on the lower levels of the roster. You're only as good as your 53rd man and football is certainly a war of attrition. Many of these guys will play meaningful minutes for the Bucs during the regular season.
After the jump, check out what you should keep your eye out for tonight.
1. We get a sneak peek of the offensive and defensive schemes.
The Buccaneer Men have kept their secrets better than the U.S. military. We're still not completely sure what type of offense or defense we're going to see on game day as Camp Toes on the Line is so fast paced and chaotic, it's not easy to discern the identity.
Here's what we know - the offense will be run based while the passing game will have a full route tree, with different ways to run a route as a reaction to each coverage. In Olsen's offense, a particular coverage would eliminate a receiver. Not in Sullivan's. Every player is in play - regardless of coverage. They'll be plenty of deep balls to V-Jax, but he's going to be used all over the field. The running game is the bread-and-butter, but Schiano and Sullivan want to see big plays come from the pass.
On Defense, Tampa Two is dead. The Bucs will be running a lot of Cover Four and this defense will be hyper aggressive with a myriad of blitzes. We may see three safeties on the field at a given time and the corners will blitz or support the run.
So what will we see tonight? Just a slight sliver of the entire package. Schiano is manic about keeping the Carolina Panthers in the dark about what's coming for them on September 9th - so expect as vanilla a game plan as you can get.
Still, we will see some of the base plays of this offense and defense and it will be interesting to see how well the players react.
2. The Run Defense
It's been the albatross of the defense since December of 2008. With McCoy back and Miller healthy, will the center of the defense finally be solidified? How will the linebackers play in this new scheme?
Shoring up this portion of the defense could be the difference between a 6 or 7 win season and challenging for a playoff berth.
3. Tiquan Underwood
Tiquan has been a standout in camp - but is he a practice champ and a game chump?
4. The Kids in the Secondary
Keep an eye on Leonard Johnson, Anthony Gaitor and Myron Lewis. With EJ Biggers and Aquib Talib expected to be out while nursing some minor injuries, the young Bucs will get their shot to impress.
5. Michael Smith
He's probably the fastest Buccaneer (although Underwood would likely challenge that assumption) and could provide some pop in the backfield and the return game. But can he be trusted in the backfield or is he just a special teams guy? We need to see if Smith can pass pro or catch in the flat.
6. Don't Blink
Freeman and the ones will probably work one series (two if they get three and outed on the first drive).
The inmates ran the asylum last season for the Buccaneers. That led to poor protection of the football, poor technique and idiotic penalties. In many of the games last season, the Bucs did all they could to give their opponents opportunities to beat them, which they most certainly did.
We know Camp Toes On The Line has been heavy on doing the little things right - let's see how the boys have learned it.
8. The Rookies
I'll be particularly interested to see how Doug Martin, Lavonte David, Keith Tandy and the other rookies handle their first NFL game.
9. The Coaches
It's Schiano's first dress rehearsal. How will he handle an NFL sideline? Will he be Chucky or Dungy or some strange combination of both? Will Sully call plays from the sideline or the sky box? How will his assistants work with their units. How will they conduct their evaluation of players?
10. Don't Worry About The Score
It's been so long since Bucs fans have enjoyed a victory. When the game kicks off, it will be 9 months, 25 days and 30 minutes. So it's understandable to want to get that winning feeling again.
But most likely, this game will be decided by the Bucs and Fins camp casualties. The guys playing in the fourth quarter probably won't be on the 53 when the season kicks off.
Whether the Bucs win or lose this game shouldn't really matter.