The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play their third and most important preseason game on Saturday, when they host the Cleveland Browns. That’ll be the team’s first game of the year in Raymond James Stadium—it’ll also be a great opportunity for the defense to really shine.
After all, the Browns will be starting rookie second-round pick DeShone Kizer at quarterback for the first time. He can’t be much worse than Brock Osweiler, I guess, but the Bucs should have the chops to beat a rookie with few weapons very, very soundly. Especially because so far, the Browns starting offense has scored a whopping zero points in two games.
The Bucs went 9-7 last year based mostly on a very strong defensive performance over the final two seasons. That defensive performance looked like something to build on: while the four-man pass-rush and run defense were still a little lacking, the pass defense was playing lights out and the Bucs consistently got to the quarterback while blitzing.
The Bucs overhauled parts of that defense, though, and want to see improvement out of a few key young players. Noah Spence and Vernon Hargreaves were inconsistent at best last year, albeit promising, and they need to take the next step for Tampa Bay’s defense to really shine. Chris Baker should be an improvement over Akeem Spence at nose tackle.
The Bucs kept their linebacking corps mostly the same, with Kendell Beckwith likely stepping in at Sam linebacker, but they did bring in two new safeties: Justin Evans and J.J. Wilcox, neither of whom has earned a starting spot so far. That may be the most concerning part, given the Bucs’ safety struggles last year—but then, Keith Tandy and Chris Conte have looked pretty solid so far.
The defense is mostly healthy—only Brent Grimes and maybe Kwon Alexander are expected to miss the game— and if they struggle on Saturday, we should start to get worried about their regular season performance.
If, on the other hand, the Bucs dominate DeShone Kizer and company, the Bucs should have all the ingredients they need for their first division win in a decade. Now that would be fun.