Week one of the preseason has finally arrived and we are just hours from kickoff in Miami. The Buccaneers will look to get off on the right foot in 2018 and build on the positives from tonight’s showdown with the Dolphins.
I - like many - don’t get overly excited for preseason games, especially the first one. I sort of look at this first game as a glorified practice. Not much, if any game planning goes into it, which is why I don’t give it much value. Head Coach Dirk Koetter even said on Monday that the coaching staff hasn’t said a word to the players about this game and at that point the game was two days away anyway. Again, more evidence that coaches treat this game as a scrimmage of sorts.
With that being said, the pre-season does hold some significant value for players fighting for a roster spot as well as rookies. Below I will give you five players we should keep a close eye on tonight.
1. Carlton Davis: Carlton Davis will be playing in his first NFL game tonight and could get the start on the outside if the team elects to sit Brent Grimes, who hasn’t practiced in the last few days. Davis, was a second round pick of the Buccaneers this past April, and the team has high expectations for the former Auburn Tiger. Davis will probably play a lot more than with just the starters, however, I expect him to get a good majority - if not all - of the snaps with the second team as well. Davis could put himself into position to win the outside starting cornerback spot opposite of Grimes with a good performance tonight.
2. Ronald Jones II: I am really interested to see how the Buccaneers use Jones tonight. Will he get reps with the first team offense? How will he look in pass protection? Will the coaching staff let him utilize his speed? Those are all questions that will be answered shortly, but I think it would be a mistake not to let Jones run a few snaps with the first team. He has been shaky in pass protection in camp, but it would be smart of the coaching staff to let him get carries behind his new offensive line. Expect Jones to get between 10 and 12 touches tonight.
3. Justin Watson and BoBo Wilson: These two players in all likelihood are competing for the fifth receiver spot on this team. Wilson, who is going into his second year with Tampa Bay, obviously has a step up on Watson, who is a rookie from an experience standpoint. With that being said, Watson has looked very impressive thus far in training camp and has made some exceptional catches. Outside of the cornerback competition, this is probably the one I am most intrigued with. Expect both players to log a lot of snaps.
4. Vernon Hargreaves III: It seems like every year the preseason comes around and Hargreaves is expected to do big things and rightfully so. He was the team’s 11th overall pick in 2016 and hasn’t quite lived up to expectations just yet. Hargreaves is certainly not guaranteed a starting spot on this team and will have to out play the two rookies (Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart). This year is a due or die year for Vernon and it’ll be interesting to see how he plays tonight. Does he have his swagger back? Will we see more press coverage? More snaps in the slot or at corner? Again, time will tell, but it’s really important for Tampa Bay to see him get off to a good start.
5. M.J. Stewart: Again, another secondary player to watch for tonight’s matchup with the Dolphins. Stewart, like Carlton Davis, was also selected in the second round of the draft by Tampa Bay and is competing for the starting nickel cornerback position with Hargreaves and Javien Elliott. It was very evident that at the end of last season the cornerback position as a whole needed to be revamped and it certainly was. Both rookies have a decent shot to be starting week one if they perform well in the pre-season and the clock starts tonight.
A few other players to watch: Alex Cappa (Right Guard), Shaun Wilson (Running back), Noah Spence (Defensive end).
The moral of my story…. Watch the secondary very very closely.