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Buccaneers vs. Eagles preseason: Winners include Jameis Winston, Mike Smith

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the Philadelphia Eagles last night, but they mostly played well — aside from the very start of the first quarter, that is. Lots of positive things to talk about, so let’s pick out a few winners.

Jameis Winston

The Bucs’ second-year quarterback wasn’t perfect — he held the ball a little too long on the sack-fumble, and the touchdown throw was late and close to being picked off — but he had a solid return to the field. Most importantly, his footwork and mechanics seemed improved, and he was more consistently accurate as a result. He ended up completing seven of nine passes for 97 yards and a touchdown, a pretty solid statline that slightly overrates the actual quality of his play. If this Winston can show up every game, the Bucs should be just fine.

Mike Smith

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers tried to overhaul their defense this offseason, but the biggest move they made was bringing in Mike Smith to run the defense. The result was promising. While the defense gave up 17 points, all of those points came off turnovers, and the two touchdowns on drives that started within the red zone. But the Eagles offense gained just 2.8 yards per play, with only 95 passing yards throughout the game. The run defense may need a little work, but both the coverage unit and the pass-rush were much-improved, and that’s exactly what the Bucs needed.

The entire defensive line

The Bucs produced four first-half sacks, distributed among four different players. They did that with Noah Spence playing a lot of snaps at right defensive end and Robert Ayers playing all over the line. Both of those players looked very strong, Ayers as a consistently disruptive pass rusher from every position, and Spence in his get-off and the ability to beat a few left tackles around the end. If the entire group can keep this up, this is going to be a very fun unit to watch.

Russell Shepard

Shepard is turning into a surprising challenger for the fourth or perhaps even third receiver job. He racked up three big catches for 62 yards and a touchdown, leading the team in receiving and showing off his explosiveness and ability to run after the catch. He looked smooth running down the field, and he’s arguably the best special teamer on the entire roster, which means he’s got a roster spot nearly certainly locked up. The fact that most other backup receivers disappointed, especially Kenny Bell, won’t hurt him either. Hopefully he’ll actually get some significant playing time this year, after a few seasons spent on the bench.

Running back screens

I love well-executed running back screens, and the Bucs have finally figured out how to execute them. The backs combined for nine catches and 119 receiving yards. That’s a whole lot of offense out of some fairly simple concepts — and every active got in on this game, too. If they can keep this up in the season, and they should, the Bucs have a very nice short passing game to complement the rest of their offense.