At long last, the Buccaneers returned to real (preseason) football action on Friday night. Tampa Bay opened its four-game preseason slate in Pittsburgh against the Steelers, losing 30-28. The starting units looked solid early on. The reserves then kind of made a mess of things before storming back late, falling just short of a comeback.
Below, we dive into what the position battles on the offensive side of the ball are looking like after one preseason game.
Starting Running Back
Peyton Barber: Barber took the initial snaps with the first-team offense, but he ultimately split time on the first drive. He ran hard and found some holes thanks to good blocking up front, finishing his short night with three carries for 18 yards (with a long of eight yards) and one catch for four yards.
Ronald Jones II: Jones got work with the first team as well, and he continued to impress. After a strong start to camp, the 2018 second-round pick carried his momentum over to his first live action of the preseason. In one drive (plus another snap or two), he ran for 18 yards on four carries (with a long of eight yards) and one catch for five yards. He also took the opening kickoff and returned it to the 19-yard line.
Stock Up: Jones
Stock Down: N/A
No. 3/No. 4 Running Back
Andre Ellington: The veteran was the first running back in after Barber and Jones were finished for the night. His first run went for a solid seven yards, but he finished the night with just nine yards on four carries. He caught his lone target for six yards, picking up a first down on a 3rd-&-2 play. Despite his otherwise quiet night, his one big mistake came in the second quarter. He failed to pick up a blitz and it was costly, leading to a sack-fumble on Ryan Griffin.
Dare Ogunbowale: Ogunbowale came in and immediately established himself as one of the stars of the night. He broke off a few strong runs with some broken tackles along the way. By the end of the night, Ogunbowale was Tampa Bay’s leading rusher, picking up a team-high 34 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. He showed great burst and some nice cuts on his 10-yard score in the third quarter:
Bruce Anderson: The undrafted rookie came in late and didn’t get much of an opportunity to show anything. With the Bucs trailing, they went pass-heavy. He finished the night with one target. From the looks of things, it doesn’t seem like Anderson will get enough reps to prove himself and make the 53-man roster.
Stock Up: Ogunbowale
Stock Down: Ellington, Anderson
Wide Receiver (Depth)
Justin Watson: Watson played pretty deep into Friday’s game, which was certainly good for his development. He caught four of his seven targets for 37 yards, with his biggest reception going for 21 yards to set up a touchdown in the third quarter. At this point in the preseason, it’s safe to project Watson as the team’s No. 4 receiver.
Bobo Wilson: Wilson caught three passes for 36 yards and returned two kicks for 39 yards (average of 19.5 yards per return). He wasn’t particularly spectacular, but there was nothing to complain about either.
Bryant Mitchell: Surprisingly enough, it was Mitchell leading the team in targets before unfortunately being carted off the field in the third quarter. Before that point, he caught all five of his targets for 32 yards. They were typically on shorter routes, with his longest of the night going for 10.
Anthony Johnson: Johnson totaled 33 yards on three catches, showing off good hands in his NFL debut. It was fairly surprising that he didn’t get featured more in the latter part of the second half.
Spencer Schnell: The Illinois State product absolutely went off in the fourth quarter. He was Ryan Griffin’s favorite target, and he ended up finishing his night with seven catches for a game-high 119 yards.
Scotty Miller: Miller is dealing with a hamstring injury and did not travel with the team to Pittsburgh. There’s no reason to jump to any drastic conclusions, but the longer he is out, the lesser his chances are. They say the best ability is availability, after all... Let’s hope he can make it back for next week’s game against Miami.
Stock Up: Watson, Schnell
Stock Down: Miller
Blaine Gabbert: Gabbert relieved Jameis Winston after a game-opening touchdown drive, but didn’t play all that long himself. He completed six of his eight passes on the night for 50 yards. His first drive was an adventurous mixed bag, as he started it by nearly throwing an interception directly to Steelers rookie linebacker Devin Bush. He later took a delay of game penalty to set the offense back, only to follow up with a 21-yard pass to Tanner Hudson. That drive ended in field goal range with Andre Ellington being stuffed at the line on 4th-&-1. Overall, Gabbert was pretty OK.
Ryan Griffin: Griffin got out to a tough start, going three-and-out on his first drive before getting hit for a sack-fumble on his second. He eventually settled in nicely and even led a comeback attempt. His night was actually pretty solid, as he completed 26 of his 43 passes for 330 yards and a touchdown. His offensive line got him into some trouble at times, but he hung in there and emerged as one of the game’s top performers.
Stock Up: Griffin
Stock Down: N/A
No. 3 Tight End
Tanner Hudson: Hudson was a consistent force throughout the game, catching passes from both Gabbert and Griffin. This “No. 3 tight end” battle wasn’t initially on my radar for this stock report, but Hudson performed too well for anyone to ignore. He hauled in seven passes for 84 yards and a score. He broke out in this one, making him someone worth watching over the next three weeks.
Antony Auclair: Auclair didn’t do anything wrong on Friday, but Hudson’s breakout game could put him in a tough battle. The incumbent No. 3 tight end caught one of his four targets for 26 yards.
Stock Up: Hudson
Stock Down: Auclair (just slightly?)
Cairo Santos: The veteran got the first chance of the night, delivering on an extra point. After that, he didn’t get another shot.
Matt Gay: The rookie made a strong impression in his debut, nailing a 55-yard field goal to end the first half. That was his only attempt of the night, but it was a memorable one.
Stock Up: Gay
Stock Down: Santos
It’s just one preseason game, so all of this can — and will — change as soon as next week. The Bucs will now return to Tampa for some joint practices and a preseason matchup with the Miami Dolphins.