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Buccaneers vs. Eagles preview: Six players to watch on defense

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Training Camp Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Philadelphia Eagles in just over three hours, and we have some time to kill before that starts. So let’s go through a few players on the Bucs’ defense for tonight. Keep in mind that the first-team defense is unlikely to play a lot of snaps, so the second- and third-team defenders will be a little more interesting to observe.

First-team defense

CB Brent Grimes

Grimes was the team’s big defensive free agent signing this offseason, and he wasn’t even all that expensive — mostly because he’s old. The question for the Bucs is whether Grimes still has the athleticism to be a quality cornerback, or whether the end is so close that he’ll be more of a liability this season. We won’t see him a lot in this game, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the way he moves to see if there are any signs of a harsh decline.

DE Robert Ayers

Here’s the other big free agent signing. Two things to watch: how disruptive is he, and where is he lining up? We expect him to primarily play defensive tackle on passing downs, giving Jacquies Smith and Noah Spence room to come in at defensive end. He’ll have to be disruptive from that position, and at defensive end on earlier downs. That’s a lot to ask of a player who didn’t really make an impact until two seasons ago.

Second-team defense

DE Noah Spence

Here’s the rookie who may make the biggest impact this offseason. The team’s second-round pick was arguably the best pure pass-rusher in the draft, and he’s going to have to be to help the Bucs win this season. You can’t expect him to be a pass-rusher this early on, but the talent should still show. Pay attention to his get-off and speed around the edge — if he can show those against NFL talent, he should be just fine.

CB Vernon Hargreaves III

Of course we’re going to pay attention to the team’s first-round pick, who hasn’t quite cracked the starting lineup yet — though he may spend some time there this evening, anyway. Hargreaves, like Spence, probably won’t be a polished defender yet, but the talent should show up. His strength is an explosive and near-instantaneous transition from backpedal to driving downhill, so pay attention to that.

Third-team defense

S Ryan Smith

Smith is the Bucs’ fourth-round pick, who might actually show up with the second-team defense. The team doesn’t have a lot of talent at safety — mostly a lot of players who are okay but not difference makers — but Smith is promising. He played both cornerback and safety in college, and has the athletic talent to be a very impressive free safety — but his small-school history probably means he’ll need some extra time to adjust to the NFL, too.

DT Davonte Lambert

If there’s one position on defense where an undrafted rookie could make the roster, it’s defensive tackle. The Bucs don’t have much depth there, and they could use a backup three-technique. Lambert may just fit the bill: he’s 6’2”, 282 lbs. Small for a defensive tackle, but the perfect size to slip through blocking schemes and cause havoc in the backfield.