The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost their first preseason game 26-16, as the first- and second-team units were pretty consistently outclassed by the Minnesota Vikings. The defense had trouble generating a pass rush, and that's never a good sign for a Tampa 2-style scheme. Meanwhile, Jameis Winston had to get over some rookie jitters as he looked a little scattershot -- a few big plays and quality throws more or less made up for a bad interception, and he ran in the first touchdown of his career. Mike James added another touchdown in the third quarter to get to the final score, while the Bucs' defense struggled to contain the Vikings offense throughout the game.
But the actual score isn't as interesting as what the Bucs' players did. That's why preseason exists, after all: to evaluate players, not to win games. Of course, we have to caution against early overreactions, too. Most starters only got a handful of snaps, especially on defense, and drawing massive conclusions from such a small sample is not smart. That said, let's get to the key observations.
Jameis Winston makes big plays and a big mistake
Winston got on the field and was scattershot at first, missing his first three passes. He made up for that with two big throws to Louis Murphy and Vincent Jackson, but then came back and threw a bad interception to Antone Exum. The early misses were likely nerves, but this is more or less what we saw of Winston in college too: big plays and some big mistakes. That'll be good, as long as the former outweigh the latter.
Winston ended the game completing 9 of 18 passes for 131 yards, one interception, two sacks, and three carries for 16 yards and a touchdown. Most of that production came in the two-minute warning, when he led the team down the field on a 76-yard drive and ran in the only touchdown he scored today. NFL.com posted the highlights here.
The Bucs may have lost their most important player
Demar Dotson had to be carted off the field with what looked like a serious left knee injury. Needless to say, that's not good. The Bucs can't adequately replace their best offensive lineman and without Dotson, Jameis Winston's odds of having a comfortable pocket decrease significantly. That's not even mentioning the likely tabling of Dotson's contract talks -- which is doubly awful, given that he's played on a far too cheap contract for years on end.
Pass rush is still a problem
The Bucs could not get a pass rush going today, either with blitzes or with four-man rushes. George Johnson flashed a little, but the team is going to need more than that if they're going to play good defense this year.
The cornerbacks are good
Both Johnthan Banks and Alterraun Verner stood out against the Vikings, with several quality tackles and pass breakups to prevent the Vikings from scoring early. Those two picked up right where they left off at the end of last season: on fire.
The offensive line looked decent
Outside of Garrett Gilkey and one play by Donovan Smith, Tampa Bay got a pretty solid showing out of their offensive line. Even Gilkey looked not-disastrous at right guard, he just couldn't snap the ball. Both Kevin Pamphile and Donovan Smith got some first-team playing time, and neither one really looked out of place either. The line opened up some holes for the running backs and helped Winston, although they only got a few series against the Vikings' first-team defense.
Has Doug Martin been resurrected?
Doug Martin's been hyped a lot this offseason, and he looked pretty good in this first preseason game. He found holes, showed patience, and even made people miss. He was helped by a surprisingly strong performance by the offensive line, but he looks pretty good.
Garrett Gilkey is still Garrett Gilkey
Garrett Gilkey got a little time at center -- and he immediately flubbed a snap, which we saw him do in training camp, too. Gilkey did look better as a blocker than he did last year, but those disastrous mistakes were why everyone hated his play last year. His recent PR work does a great job of showing his personality and personal hardship -- but the Bucs still need a good player, really.
The running back competition is fascinating
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have four running backs who could get a lot of carries this offseason, and one of those players is likely to be cut before the seasons starts. And all four of those backs looked good this game, with Bobby Rainey and Doug Martin each getting five carries for 19 and 20 yards respectively, while Charles Sims got two for 11 yards. But the player who really stood out was Mike James -- not so much for his running as for his receiving, catching three passes for 29 yards, and rushing in a touchdown. He looked like the competent if not special running back he was as a rookie.
The Bucs can force fumbles
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers couldn't get to the passer and they couldn't get their hands on the ball, but they're really good at forcing fumbles. They managed to create three, with Khaseem Greene executing a beautiful punch-out just before Dominique Williams was about to score a touchdown. This is something the Bucs worked on this offseason, and it's showing -- hopefully that can carry over to the regular season, too.
Robert Herron can catch now
We know Robert Herron is explosive, but he just couldn't catch a ball last year. That seems to have improved, as he managed two catches for 38 yards in today's game. He'll get some competition to make the roster, though -- rookie Adam Humphries and Donteea Dye also made some nice plays.
Good scheming by Koetter. Herron loses Sherels on rub route v. man pic.twitter.com/jK34fnlaXH— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) August 16, 2015