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Bucs vs. Titans: What To Watch For

A thrilling week of practice guarantees a competitive matchup on Saturday night

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Miami Dolphins
The Bucs should get a much stiffer test against the Titans
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Bucs notched a win during their first preseason game against Miami, but there was plenty of room for improvement, which is the norm after week one.

This week was different than usual though with the Bucs traveling to Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans through two joint practices and a preseason matchup.

Tampa Bay has plenty of questions at running back, cornerback, guard, and to an extent - right tackle.

The Titans still have a lot to figure out as well, from a new coaching staff, new systems, to injuries of their own. So what should you keep an eye on Saturday night?

1. Will Peyton Barber tighten his grip on the starting job?

Bucs Nation’s own Bailey Adams discussed head coach Dirk Koetter’s recent comments about Barber earning the starting gig with Ronald Jones II looking like a rookie for most of camp. A standout all camp long, Barber has done little else but impress coaches and teammates around One Buc Place.

He was by far and away the better running back of the two in South Beach. Even though he only notched four carries, he made the most of it, rushing for 21 yards and a touchdown.

And he was spotted this past Tuesday at practice catching passes out of the backfield - further cementing the dedication to improving his game over the summer.

While Barber has looked great, the same can’t really be said for Jones II, who fumbled twice during Thursday’s practice session. Add that to an unimpressive performance against Miami and it’s pretty clear that Jones II needs a big game against the Titans.

Barber should receive more chances Saturday night that will help determine his fate in Tampa Bay and that could also determine Jones’ fate as well.

2. The Bucs’ receivers against the Titans’ secondary

This will be one of the most intriguing matchups of the evening. Tampa Bay’s receiving corps is one of the best in the league and Tennessee’s secondary boasts players such as Logan Ryan, Kevin Byard, Malcolm Butler, and Adoree Jackson.

That gives the Titans two Super Bowl champs, one All-Pro, and a first-round pick in the defensive backfield. To say they’re talented would be minimal at best, and with a Super Bowl-winning defensive coordinator and head coach, the Titans should be able to maximize the abilities of this secondary.

The matchups alone are enough to cause excitement. Will Ryan be assigned to Mike Evans? Will it be Jackson-on-Jackson (Adoree vs. DeSean)? What happens if the Bucs put Evans or O.J. Howard in the slot?

The Titans defensive backs got a preview of what the Bucs’ receivers can bring on Wednesday, but they evened things up a bit on Thursday - especially Jackson.

A back-and-forth battle will be fun to watch against these two units.

3. Jason Pierre-Paul vs. Taylor Lewan

Tampa Bay’s newest - and best - pass rusher will face off against arguably the best left tackle in the league for what should an entertaining matchup. If the Bucs wanted a true measuring stick for what JPP will bring this season, they sure as hell got one in Lewan.

Both players possess massive skill and work-ethic, which are a few of many reasons why both have been featured as premier players during their careers.

JPP made several plays against Lewan, including a big sack on Marcus Mariota during Wednesday’s practice. Lewan isn’t the type to let things go, so I’m sure he will be ready for Pierre-Paul come Saturday night.

4. The Titans’ receivers against the Bucs’ secondary

This is where a lot of questions are on both rosters. For the Titans, they have a young, talented, but unproven receiving corps and the same could easily be said about the Bucs’ secondary.

But the Titans aren’t dealing with injuries at the position - which can’t be said for Tampa Bay.

Injuries have forced the Bucs to experiment in the secondary - leaving them with three rookies and a second-year player to receive multiple reps.

Tampa Bay has two definite starters in Brent Grimes and Justin Evans, but the rest of the roster is a toss-up. M.J. Stewart has had an excellent camp, but it’s hard to entrust a rookie going up against the likes of Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, and A.J. Green.

The Titans’ best receiver, Rishard Matthews, is currently on the PUP list and last year’s fifth overall pick, Corey Davis has looked good at times but is still improving.

Taywan Taylor, another second-year player has been playing with the ones due to Matthews’ absence and looked very good during the week’s joint practices. One player to keep an eye on for the Titans is receiver Darius Jennings, who scored the team’s first touchdown against Green Bay and has consistently made plays throughout camp.

How the Bucs game plan with the injuries and how the Titans adjust to said injuries is another element to factor in during the game.

5. Jurrell Casey and the Bucs’ interior line

It’s been noted during training camp that Casey, a multiple Pro Bowl defensive tackle, will no longer move positions along the defensive line. He will stay at the 3-tech spot on either side of the line depending on the matchup.

Well, if you know defensive line techniques, a 3-tech will line up on the weakside guard’s outside shoulder, making said guard responsible for the oncoming rusher. This puts the offensive line at a disadvantage because now the weakside tackle can't double down and the center now has a longer distance to travel in order to execute the double-team.

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs
It will be interesting to see how the Bucs defend Casey Saturday night
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Bucs currently have a rather large hole at right guard - and a right tackle recovering from knee surgery - so it makes all the sense in the world for the Titans to plug Casey in and watch him work.

How will the Bucs respond? Or more importantly, how will Evan Smith, Caleb Benenoch, Demar Dotson, and others respond?

Tampa Bay will play against Kawann Short and Grady Jarrett twice each this season. They will also go against Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Williams, Damon Harrison, and others in 2018 - all players who are some of the best interior defensive linemen in the league.

Granted, Williams and Harrison are nose tackles, but the space-eater will require double teams to keep him out of the Bucs’ backfield - which in return will require interior line help.