Despite watching a 27-6 lead turn into a 33-30 loss to the Detroit Lions on Friday night, the Buccaneers saw some encouraging things in their third game of the 2018 preseason. After a 59-minute weather delay, Tampa Bay came out hot and put up 30 points for the second straight game. The defense held Matthew Stafford and his offense in check throughout the first half before the backups struggled their way through the second half.
The first two weeks of the preseason were pretty big ones for the team’s rookie class, but the group got quieter and a little sloppier in some areas on Friday. There are still quite a few injuries that some of the guys are working through, which means getting healthier heading into the regular season is the top objective. With that said, let’s evaluate what we saw from the rookies that did play this week.
RB Ronald Jones II
After some reports surfaced on Friday afternoon that he wasn’t grasping the playbook, rookie running back Ronald Jones II finally came through with a big play on Friday night. He entered the game on the team’s second possession after Peyton Barber dominated the opening drive. Jones’ first carry was an encouraging four-yard gain. Then, on the next play, we saw him get open for a huge 37-yard reception:
.@Buccaneers rookie Ronald Jones (@rojo) goes DEEP on the throw from Fitzpatrick! #DETvsTB pic.twitter.com/ikQO3ykbGW— NFL (@NFL) August 25, 2018
The rest of his night wasn’t as good, as he finished with six carries for seven yards overall. But really, as Pewter Report’s Trevor Sikkema wrote this week, there shouldn’t be any significant worrying when it comes to Jones’ preseason performance. He lacks experience, which has led to indecisiveness and a lack of confidence. Plus, he has been running behind a banged-up first team offensive line and, even more often, a second team line that is even more banged-up. With time, he’ll get better and show why he was worthy of being taken in the second round.
Seeing him come out hard for four yards on his first carry was good to see, as was the long reception. One of the knocks on him has been his pass-catching ability, so doing what he did with his one target on Friday is certainly a step forward.
S Jordan Whitehead, CB Carlton Davis
A pair of rookies in the secondary had a so-so night, with a big mistake by Jordan Whitehead emerging as the most notable play. Early in the game, the former Pitt Panther got beat deep and was flagged for pass interference. The penalty moved the ball over 50 yards down the field, which is never a good thing. Some may argue that taking the flag was better than giving up a touchdown, but others would argue that he could’ve just made the play had he turned his head around. Overall, Whitehead finished the night with four tackles and was credited with a sack.
Davis came up with two tackles on the night, but appeared to be out of position on a few plays in the first half. He got a chance to start on the outside, but he showed that there is still some work to be done before anyone can feel completely secure with him playing consistently on the opposite side of Brent Grimes. Of course, he is definitely better-suited to be playing physically, but Mike Smith seems set on his corners playing off the receivers.
The two rookies did team up for a nice play that won’t show up on the stat sheet, but it was a positive nonetheless. Right after Whitehead’s pass interference penalty, he appeared to force a fumble in the red zone that Davis then recovered. It looked like a clear fumble, but the officials ruled that the receiver was down by contact. After a review, the call stood as it was called on the field. Whether they were robbed or not, it was still an encouraging play.
RB Shaun Wilson
With Charles Sims heading to injured reserve this week, Shaun Wilson’s path to making the roster got a bit clearer. Jacquizz Rodgers is likely a lock for the No. 3 running back spot, but Wilson has done enough out of the backfield and in the return game to deserve a long look for a roster spot.
The Duke product followed up a nice debut last week with an even better showing this week. He got most of the reps on the kickoff return team, taking five kicks for 133 yards. That was good for an average return of 26.6 yards and his longest of the night went for 39. Out of the backfield, he ran three times for 10 yards and caught one pass for 11 yards. He got most of his offensive looks later in the game, but still managed to make the best of them.
The best of the rest
Sixth-rounder Jack Cichy finished tied for second on the team in tackles with six, which has to help his case for grabbing one of the final linebacker spots... Undrafted rookie Godwin Igwebuike had six tackles, tying with Cichy for second-most... Justin Watson caught three of his four targets for 35 yards. One of his receptions was a nice diving grab, while another one of his targets drew a pass interference call against Detroit’s No. 1 corner Darius Slay. It seems safe to think Watson has earned his way onto the 53-man roster... Third-rounder Alex Cappa is still a work in progress, struggling with pass protection on a few instances... No. 4 quarterback Austin Allen entered late and completed one of his seven passing attempts for 19 yards. He threw an interception on the final play of the game... Vita Vea, M.J. Stewart and Cole Boozer all sat out with injuries.