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Buccaneers vs. Vikings: Key Tampa Bay players to watch on defense

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Which players do you need to watch tonight? We've got the key players for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on defense as they take on the Minnesota Vikings.

First team

Jacquies Smith

The Bucs need a pass rush, and Jacquies Smith is their best hope to get one. He jumped onto the scene with six-and-a-half sacks in limited time last year, and provided consistent pressure throughout his playing time. Smith came out of nowhere, though, being picked up off waivers after years of jumping around the league without playing time or a sack. He'll get his first chance to show that last year wasn't just a fluke against the Vikings.

Bruce Carter

The Bucs sure like their gambles in free agency. Carter was signed after a half-season of quality play in four years time -- and that half-year came at a different position than the one he'll be playing now. Carter is athletic and has the skillset to be quality middle linebacker, but a lot is going to be asked of him, especially in coverage. Can he hold up, or is he going to be yet another failed free agent?

Leonard Johnson

The Bucs signed Sterling Moore to compete at outside cornerback, but everyone assumed he'd take over the nickel role eventually. Not so: Leonard Johnson and Isaiah Frey have been the only players working at slot cornerback, which is a separate position for the Bucs. Johnson has been bad throughout his tenure with the Bucs, giving up far too many big plays -- although he does have a knack for getting his hands on the ball.

Second team

Mike Jenkins

Here's a curious thing: Lovie Smith loves Mike Jenkins, who missed almost all of last season due to injury. Jenkins has been working with the backup cornerbacks, but his athleticism and size really appeal to the Bucs' coaching staff. he has an uphill battle to get a significant amount of playing time, with Johnthan Banks and Alterraun Verner set to start -- but Jenkins was the surprising starter ahead of Banks to start the season last year, too. Maybe he can do it again, in spite of his long history of very inconsistent play.

Kwon Alexander

The most athletic linebacker on the team's roster, and that's saying a lot for a team that also featured Bruce Carter, Lavonte David and Danny Lansanah. Alexander's been working at middle linebacker after it became clear that Danny Lansanah was not relinquishing his starting spot on the strong side. With Alexander the likely future starter at middle linebacker, it'll be good to see how quickly he can adapt to the NFL.

D.J. Swearinger

I'm still not sure how Swearinger fits in the Bucs' defense, but the team got a talented player off waivers basically for free and he's been competing at both safety spots. He has a good chance to get playing time this season, but he has a history of undisciplined play and it wouldn't be that surprising if he didn't make it out of preseason. We have no clue how he'll look, so we'll get to find out tonight.

Third team

Khaseem Greene

Greene hasn't been mentioned much, but he was another one of the much-touted waiver wire pickups this year. The former fourth-round pick fits the mold the Bucs want at linebacker: fast and athletic. Greene has been very quiet in training camp, though, and he's got quite a ways to go if he wants to make the roster. Even so, a few standout plays can quickly flip things in his favor.

Ryan Delaire

The Bucs need a pass rush, and Ryan Delaire is the favorite long-shot to make the roster this year. The undrafted rookie out of Towson could make a bit of an impact this season, as the Bucs don't have much ahead of him at defensive end. If he can show some flashes in the preseason he can stick on the roster and maybe even get some playing time if injuries strike.