After a couple of joint practices with the Titans on Wednesday and Thursday, the Buccaneers will conclude their week in Tennessee on Saturday with their second preseason matchup. Tampa Bay saw some encouraging things in its preseason opener last week, but this week presents a new opportunity for different players to step up. Which players have the most to gain on Saturday?
RB Shaun Wilson
When it comes to rookie running backs on the roster, Ronald Jones II gets most of the attention. But early in camp, undrafted rookie Shaun Wilson has impressed. Heading into last Thursday’s game against the Dolphins, many were excited to get their first glimpse of the Duke product in NFL game action. Unfortunately, that glimpse never came as he was unable to suit up due to a minor injury.
This week, it looks like Wilson should be good to go. Saturday is a big day for him, as a good showing might go a long way. He has been getting work on special teams, which suits his speed quite well. He ran a 4.42 40-yard dash, so seeing time as a return man and/or punt gunner makes sense.
Not only could he win a roster spot with his special teams work, but he still is very much in the mix for a spot in the backfield. Jones and Peyton Barber are firmly set as the team’s top two running backs, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear No. 3 behind them. Both Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims are still on the roster. Dare Ogunbowale, who looked solid last week against Miami, could be a threat too. But if Wilson shows more upside than the other three, what reason is there to deny him of the No. 3 spot? He has some competition, but he will be out to prove himself on Saturday. Showing that he can get it done in game action would be huge for his chances of earning a roster spot— whether it’s on special teams or in the backfield rotation.
CB Ryan Smith
On the other side of the ball, the Bucs have a cornerback in major need of a bounce-back game. Third-year pro Ryan Smith struggled a lot last week against Miami. It didn’t take long for the Dolphins quarterbacks to notice, as they started picking on him repeatedly. If you’re getting picked on by multiple quarterbacks in a preseason game, that’s not a great look. Plus, from what has circulated on Twitter this week, he hasn’t had the best week of practice either.
With rookies Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart appearing ready to earn a lot of snaps this year, Smith is already up against a lot. His struggles aren’t helping his case, but he should get plenty of opportunities to rebound on Saturday. With Brent Grimes being a veteran (and coming off an injury) and Vernon Hargreaves III out with a groin injury, Smith will get his fair share of snaps against Tennessee.
He is already in danger of sliding down the depth chart due to the emergence of the rookies, but Saturday will give him an opportunity to do some damage control. He showed little flashes of potential when he was thrown into the fire last year. There is obviously something there to work with. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be in the NFL. But this week is a big one for him. He needs a bounce-back game to quiet the current negativity that surrounds his name.
WRs Bobo Wilson and Justin Watson
One of the more intriguing position battles of the preseason involves depth at wide receiver. The big question seems to be whether the Bucs will carry five or six receivers. Bobo Wilson has reportedly grown as a professional and as a player since last season and has shown that he can be a reliable target. Rookie Justin Watson, drafted in the fifth round of this year’s draft, looks the part of an NFL receiver and could be a big part of the team’s future plans.
When looking at the situation, it looks simple. The easy answer is “just keep both.” Of course, it’s not that easy. Tampa Bay has to decide how it wants to structure its 53-man roster for the regular season. Keeping six wide receivers likely means making a tough cut at another position. But what makes this Saturday important for both Wilson and Watson is that they have another chance to prove to the front office that they’re worth keeping. If they both continue to play well, Tampa Bay should be able to find a way to keep six.
Where this gets a little more important for Watson is with the news that Wilson was unable to practice on Thursday. If he can’t suit up on Saturday, that doesn’t kill his chances of making the roster. But what it would do is give Watson a window of opportunity to establish himself as No. 5. Earning that No. 5 spot is obviously the goal for both guys, since it doesn’t leave anything to chance. No. 6 may or may not make the roster. No. 5 will 100 percent be on the team. If Watson shows out with a big night on Saturday while Wilson is on the sideline, he could take the lead for that spot.
The Defensive Line
The Tampa Bay defensive line was terrible in 2017, which led to a big effort to re-build the group this offseason. The front office did just that, which has renewed hope among fans that the team’s defense can finally be effective again. In last week’s preseason opener, Jason Pierre-Paul was pretty disruptive and Gerald McCoy picked up a sack thanks to some pressure from Vinny Curry. But other than that, there wasn’t a lot to write home about.
Last week wasn’t all bad for the front four, but everyone is expecting more out of them in 2018. This week, they will have another chance to build some good will for the upcoming season. If they can get some pressure on Marcus Mariota early, it could reinforce those good feelings about what went on this offseason. The expectations are high for those guys, so seeing them come together in week two of the preseason would be an encouraging sign.
The secondary is still developing, so the success of the defensive line is vital to the overall success of the defense. Tampa Bay needs pressure on the quarterback to win games. After all the hype about the new-look line over the early summer months, watching Miami’s quarterbacks sit in the pocket with relative comfort last week was a bit of a disappointment. It’s nothing to panic over, but the big guys could use a strong performance on Saturday to quell any hint of worry from the front office (and the fan base).
K Chandler Catanzaro
Is this really still going on? Do the Bucs still not have a reliable kicker? The team signed Chandler Catanzaro in March, giving him over $3 million in guaranteed money. With that guaranteed money, you can bet that he is going to get every opportunity to be the team’s kicker in 2018. After last week, it’s going to take some time (and a long string of successful extra point/field goal attempts) before the fan base will feel confident in him.
His Buccaneer career got out to a rough start against Miami, to say the least. He missed his first extra point attempt and later failed to connect on a 53-yarder. The 53-yarder might not be as worrisome, but after weeks of hearing about the long kicks he was making in practice, it was disappointing. The team’s kicking struggles are well-documented, of course. Kyle Brindza, Roberto Aguayo and Nick Folk are just a few names that will make all of Tampa Bay groan. Catanzaro surely doesn’t want his name to be added to that list.
There won’t be true confidence in the fifth-year veteran until he shows some consistency in the regular season. His game-winning 26-yard field goal helped his case, but everyone is surely waiting to see him make some high-pressure kicks before getting too comfortable. He won’t pick up a ton of believers on Saturday, but a clean performance would definitely be welcomed.
Who has the most to gain in Saturday’s preseason game against the Titans?
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