The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play their preseason debut tonight at 7;30 PM EST against the Cincinnati Bengals. Both teams saw a good bit of change in their locker rooms this offseason — with the Bengals losing arguably their best two offensive linemen in Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler and adding speedster John Ross and home-run hitter Joe Mixon through the draft. The Bucs, as we all know, got two big free agent additions in wide receiver DeSean Jackson and nose tackle Chris “Swaggy” Baker, also adding all-around talents in tight end O.J. Howard and receiver Chris Godwin through the draft.
The Bucs can expect several players out on Friday night — cornerback Brent Grimes sustained a gash on his leg in practice Wednesday and will not play, cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah is set to have surgery that will end his season for a patellar fracture, as well as center Ali Marpet (ankle), guard/center Evan Smith (back), linebacker Adarius Glanton (unknown) and receiver Donteaa Dye (ankle). On the other side, the Bengals can expect to be missing first round pick John Ross (shoulder), running back Giovani Bernard (knee), corner Dre Kirkpatrick (unknown), safety George Iloka (knee) and several other players.
Speaking of the Bucs playing the Bengals, hey, Terrance Newman.
Mike Evans just DESTROYED Terrance Newman https://t.co/mww3HL9Iiv” @RaybnRay— Travis Hytche (@TH3_Era) March 21, 2015
With that being said, let’s get into the matchups.
Roberto Aguayo vs Nick Folk
The Bucs kicking battle has been fairly even so far, with Roberto Aguayo only slightly edging out veteran Nick Folk for the job if I were to pick now. However, practice will not be weighed nearly as much as game action in the grand scheme of things and deciding who will be taking kicks for the Bucs Week 1. I’d expect Aguayo to handle the kicking duties as the “first-team” kicker in the first quarter, but the team makes it clear in their preliminary depth chart that it’s an either/or type of deal, and unlike other positions, kicking isn't nearly affected as much as other positions based on whether or not you’re going up against first, second, or third-stringers.
With the Bucs first and fourth outside corners on the depth chart in Brent Grimes and Jude Adjei-Barimah out tonight, it will be interesting to see how the substitutions end up playing out. The team has had veteran Cody Riggs and undrafted rookie Maurice Fleming working with the third team defense as the outside corners, so I’d expect one of them to step up and join second-year corner Ryan Smith with the first team. Smith, who’s had a strong camp and has locked himself in now as the team’s third boundary corner, will likely now play all of the first half in Cincinnati and will be tasked with dealing with a variety of the Bengals’ weapons, including Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell. Boyd struggled after being a top 60 pick as a rookie and will look to have a big sophomore season in the reloaded Bengals offense. The team also has two Day 3 selections into receivers in the last two seasons in Josh Malone and Cody Core, who should both see significant playing time in the second quarter and on tonight.
The Bucs third round draft pick, drafted 97th overall, tore his ACL near the end of his college career but has quickly turned around in just eight months to position himself well to be the team’s starting SAM linebacker alongside Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. Beckwith has also been working with the second team as the MIKE linebacker behind Kwon Alexander and will likely see significant playing time tonight. With such a quick recovery from an ACL tear — and not even wearing a brace in practice — I’m hesitant to declare Beckwith 100% and will need to see that he’s fully free-of-flow and ready to go tonight to make a final judgement.
Although the top four receivers on the Bucs roster (Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin, Adam Humphries) appear to be locked in to make the roster, the fifth and/or sixth receiver spots are up in the air at the moment. The candidates on roster for now are Josh Huff, Derel Walker, Jesus “Bobo” Wilson, and Freddie Martino, with Shaq Hill, Donteaa Dye, and Bernard Reedy on the outside looking in for a roster spot. I think Huff and Walker are the most likely at this point, but that’s just based off of training camp performance, which matters much less than how you do against your opponent in-game.
Several months ago, the Bucs signed veteran backup Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one year, $4.5 million dollar deal. I praised the move at the time, saying that I saw Fitzpatrick as one of the most reliable and consistent backups in the league, even if he had been inconsistent at best as a starter for the Jets previously. However, Fitzpatrick has shown signs of steep decline in camp, often struggling to push the ball down the field or rely on his smarts as much as he once did. This has brought Ryan Griffin back into play for the team, a guy who was seen as out of a job with the Fitzpatrick signing. Griffin has been a tad disappointing considering the team carved out a roster spot as the third quarterback for him for two seasons and he hasn’t done a whole lot to warrant or earn it, but he’s now splitting the second team reps with Fitzpatrick in practice. It will be interesting to see how they stack up against each other tonight, and I expect each to play a little over a quarter with undrafted rookie Sefo Liufau finishing things off at the end of the fourth.