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Buccaneers rookie recap: preseason week two

Tampa Bay continued to see positive things from its rookies, but health among the group is quickly becoming a concern.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers improved their preseason record to 2-0 on Saturday night, beating the Titans in Tennessee by a score of 30-14. After a mostly positive performance by the rookie class in last week’s preseason opener, there was a little bit more disappointment in week two. More of that disappointment came from injuries rather than poor play, but it was still frustrating to see.

As far as what happened on the field, the Bucs should feel pretty good about the progress of the 2018 class. As we’ll continue to do throughout the season, let’s take a deeper look at what we saw from the rookies that took the field on Saturday night.

CB M.J. Stewart

The trio of rookies in the Buccaneer secondary made up one big bright spot last week in Miami. However, of the three, M.J. Stewart was the only one without a big play. He played well, but Carlton Davis and Jordan Whitehead got a lot of the attention. Stewart responded in a big way this week, coming through with some splash plays of his own. He forced two fumbles, with the second being recovered by Lavonte David to set up a Tampa Bay scoring drive:

Stewart later left the game with a foot injury and didn’t return. It might have been precautionary, as he was initially listed as questionable to return. The trainers and/or coaching staff could have determined that it wasn’t worth testing in the preseason, so he spent the rest of the night on the sideline. Still, it’s a situation worth keeping an eye on considering the recent injuries in the rest of the secondary.

WR Justin Watson

Fifth round pick Justin Watson caught all three of his targets for 30 yards in last week’s game, which made for a nice debut. He took things to another level on Saturday, catching four of his five targets for 54 yards and his first career preseason touchdown. The score came late in the first half in a third-and-long situation:

That was an excellent throw by Jameis Winston, but also fantastic work by Watson to secure the ball, keep his feet in bounds and complete the catch. Over his first two NFL preseason games, he has definitely looked worthy of a spot on the 53-man roster. With his main competition, Bobo Wilson, out for Saturday’s game, Watson might have gained the upper hand for the No. 5 receiver role.

RBs Ronald Jones II and Shaun Wilson

It was another quiet week for second round pick Ronald Jones. He only got four carries on the night and turned those into two yards. He got a few snaps with the majority of the first-team offensive line, but couldn’t find much running room. Jones’ slow development probably isn’t worth an all-out panic, but there has to be at least some concern halfway through the preseason. He has looked hesitant, perhaps indicating a lack of confidence.

After being acknowledged as the starting running back this week, Peyton Barber further separated himself from Jones this week. He rushed for 32 yards on six carries (a nice 5.3 yards per carry). Jones obviously isn’t in danger of missing the roster, but his play in the first two weeks of the preseason hasn’t inspired any excitement whatsoever.

Shaun Wilson, who was an undrafted addition this offseason, missed last week’s game with an injury. Following weeks of impressive practices, he made his highly-anticipated debut on Saturday night. He ran five times for 17 yards and showed a nice burst on his lone kick return opportunity, going for 26 yards. On the Tampa Bay broadcast, former Buc Ronde Barber spoke highly of Wilson and noted how the coaches have been “enamored” with him. His first game action went well, which helps his chances of sneaking onto the roster. Charles Sims, one of the backs he is competing with, went down with an injury on the opening kickoff. However, Dare Ogunbowale has cemented himself as another hurdle for Wilson to jump.

The best of the rest

Sergio Bailey, who shined late in last week’s game, caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Griffin in the fourth quarter. With as much depth as the Bucs have at wide receiver, he won’t make the roster. However, he has quickly become a deserving candidate for a spot on the practice squad... Third-rounder Alex Cappa continued to ease his way into the offensive line. He took some snaps with the first-teamers while Caleb Benenoch sat out for a few plays... Quarterback Austin Allen, an undrafted rookie out of Arkansas, saw his first NFL action in the fourth quarter. He finished two-of-two for 18 yards... Jordan Whitehead, who emerged very quickly last week, was quiet in limited action this week. He left the game with a shoulder injury, adding to the injury woes plaguing the rookie class... Vita Vea, Carlton Davis, Cole Boozer and Shaheed Salmon were all out with injuries.