The Tampa Bay Buccaneers face off against the Buffalo Bills tomorrow in their third preseason game. That matchup will revolve around first-team players: the starters will play the majority of the snaps, trying to establish some charity and in some cases, still fighting position battles.
So which position battles should we look out for? Who needs to show up to hold on to his starting job, and who has a chance to sneak in? Four positions where players can win and lose jobs tomorrow!
G Oniel Cousins (75) and G Patrick Omameh (66)
While their performance against the Miami Dolphins can hardly be described as "good", they are hanging on to their starting roles. And none of the other guards looked good enough last week to unseat them. Their game-to-game improvement was very encouraging, however, and if they can once again improve on their latest outing, they may even turn out to be not-completely-crippling to the offensive performance.
Meanwhile, the Bucs traded for Rishaw Johnson yesterday, and we don't even know whether he'll play against the Bills. Still, given his talent and background and the lack of both among the team's other guards, he has a decent shot of starting sooner rather than later. If he can line up and play in this game, that will be a good indication that he's picking up things very quickly. If he can't, all hope is not lost: there's always the fourth preseason game.
DE Adrian Clayborn (94) and DE William Gholston (92)
We want pass rush! We need pass rush! And we're not getting it!
We all know Gerald McCoy can wreak havoc in the backfield, and Clinton McDonald has also looked good at nose tackle. But the outside pass rush has been lacking this preseason, and neither Johnson nor Clayborn has shown up. Johnson has flashed a few times, mostly driving back tackles rather than getting past them. He's still adjusting to the team's scheme and what they're asking him to do, but he hasn't been the driving force the Bucs need him to be.
But that's not really a position battle: Johnson is going to start regardless.
Meanwhile, Adrian Clayborn hustles and runs and looks like the "Everready Rabbit", as Lovie Smith called him, but he hasn't actually beaten anyone this preseason. I'm not exaggerating here: he has not beaten a single offensive lineman even once over the course of two games. That fits with what we saw out of him last year, when he also struggled to make an impact as a pass rusher. Quite simply, what he's shown is not good enough and at this rate we may see Da'Quan Bowers or William Gholston take over at left defensive end.
TE Tim Wright (81), TE Luke Stocker (88) and TE Brandon Myers (82)
Tight ends, tight ends, tight ends! We don't have a clue what's going on at this position. One thing we do know: Austin Seferian-Jenkins is going to play a big role as a receiver this year, and has the physical tools to be a good blocker down the line. At this point, he's not that, though -- which is why Luke Stocker appears to be in line to make the roster as a blocking tight end.
Behind those two, things get murky. Lovie Smith was positive about Tim Wright this season and it looks like he'll hang on to his roster spot as a receiving tight end, but where does that leave Brandon Myers? The veteran got a decent bit of playing time with the starters last week, looked good, and his salary is fully guaranteed. Will the Bucs carry four tight ends when they'll usually line up with, at most two and more frequently just one?
These are not idle questions, and the playing time these players receive will give us a clue about which way the team is leaning.
WR Solomon Patton (86), Bobby Rainey (43) and Eric Page (17)
Ah, the battle for kick- and punt-return duties is on! Patton got most of he reps last week, and looked pretty good doing so. He seems to have leapfrogged Eric Page in the rankings, though that may have been a one-week thing. The problem for both Patton and Page is that neither really contributes on offense, and saving a roster spot by having a regular contributor be the team's primary return specialists would be useful.
That's where Bobby Rainey comes in, as the running back has seen quite a bit of time with the return units during the offseason, too. Page and/or Patton are going to have to really stand out on special teams to hang on to a roster spot and hold off a more versatile player in Rainey, who's already guaranteed a spot on the roster.