The Tampa Bay Buccaneers kick off the preseason against the Minnesota Vikings tonight. Here are the key players to watch on offense on the first, second and third team.
This is the obvious one. The Buccaneers drafted a quarterback with the first overall pick. Obviously, his snaps will be analyzed to bits. He'll likely play the first quarter, and we'll get to see him go up against a real NFL defense for the first time -- even if it is preseason. Winston has played well in training camp, but has also thrown plenty of interceptions -- I'd expect that to continue tomorrow as he gets used to the speed of NFL defenses.
The big thing won't be the amount of completed passes nor the turnovers. It'll be how he responds to a live pass rush, how willing he is to make tough throws, and whether or not he can deliver the ball on time, and accurately.
Last year, the Bucs started Anthony Collins at left tackle. That turned out to be a disaster, as Collins was repeatedly and consistently beaten by everyone he faced. Second-rounder Donovan Smith is going to have to do better, and he certainly has the talent to be quality left tackle. The problem: he was inconsistent in college and there were some questions about his work ethic, though those haven't surfaced with the Bucs this offseason (at least as far as we can tell). That's why he was available at the top of the second round -- and it's why the Bucs need to see him in action before trusting him to protect Winston's blindside for the season.
Curiously, Smith is currently listed as a co-starter with Kevin Pamphile -- so watch out for him with the second team as well as the first team.
The Bucs had a very good running back once upon a time. His name was Doug Martin, and he was a reliable workhorse for exactly one year before turning into a bottom-of-the-league starter for two consecutive seasons. This is Martin's final year under contract and his last chance to prove that he can still be a reliable back in the NFL. Training camp reports have emphasized his strong offseason, and he's lost 20 pounds of weight to get back some of his burst. We'll get to see whether that holds up tonight.
The other lineman the Buccaneers drafted in the second round gets his shot with the backups, behind Garrett Gilkey. Marpet is expected to take over the starting job at some point this year, perhaps as early as next week, but he has a lot of work to do before he can get there. As as Division III prospect, he has almost no experience going against quality opposition. This game should give us a good glimpse of how well he's adjusting.
Sims rookie year was a bit of a waste. The third-rounder missed half the season with an ankle injury, then turned in a dismal performance on the ground with a decent outing as a third-down back. The Bucs' coaching staff really likes Sims, though, and he's been likened to Lovie Smith's former beau Matt Forte. Sims will have to show that he can be more than just a third-down back to earn significant playing time as a runner, though.
Last year's rookie receiver wasn't very good. In fact, he was downright useless -- both as a returner and especially as a receiver, catching just six passes on twelve targets. He had the dropsies throughout the year, and that's carried over into training camp this season -- but there's an upside, too: he's made a lot of explosive plays in practice. If he can just shore up his hands, he should be alright -- but that's a lot to ask, apparently.
Remember the tight end who came out of nowhere in 2013 and became one of the most promising young players on the Bucs' roster? The one who did nothing in last year's preseason, was traded to the New England Patriots, cut, and picked backup off waivers by the Bucs? He's now way at the bottom of the tight end depth chart once again, but he has the explosiveness as a receiver to climb back up. That's going to have to start in his first game back.