As we continue our march through the preseason, time is starting to run out for bubble players to make an impact.
Bruce Arians even said on Wednesday that he could cut the current 90-man roster down to 60 players without much thought. For the players fighting for their NFL lives, that means it’s time to start making some noise.
But it’s not all about the players on the bubble. The starters will likely see some action - albeit very limited action - and are hoping to continue their growth against the Miami Dolphins.
Of course, the biggest key is that the Bucs leave this game healthy and with their roster intact, but with that in the back of our minds, let’s go ahead and check out what we need to be paying attention to on Friday night.
1. Offensive Play-Calling/Situational Football
This one is pretty obvious.
The first-team offense came out against the Steelers and looked like a unit that had been playing in this system for years. The end result was a 12-play drive that was finished off with a beautiful bubble screen to Chris Godwin for a touchdown.
Byron Leftwich’s play calling abilities were on display and even though it’s the preseason, it was fun to watch. Will he do the same against Miami? That’ll certainly be something to keep an eye on.
But the best part of the drive was the fact there were no negative plays involved. No lost yardage, no penalties - nothing. That is something that hasn’t been seen around here in a while, even if it’s just the preseason.
Keep an eye on what the Bucs are doing during the play, not just the result. Are there multi-level routes, reads, and checkdowns going on? How are the running backs being used? Answers to questions like those usually let you know how this team will perform in the regular season more than anything.
Another aspect to watch is situation football. How does the team look on third down? In the red zone? At the goal line? Training camp and preseason are here to iron out the wrinkles in these situations.
2. Trench Warfare
We all know that starting offensive line looked solid against the Steelers, but the backups didn't. The same can be said for the defensive line, too.
Now, the defensive line is without Vita Vea, and that is a big deal in its own right, but anyone who watches football knows that it’s “the next man up” and that injuries happen all of the time. Whomever is behind the starters needs to be ready to play at all times and they need to be effective.
The second- and third-string offensive lines couldn’t get much done. Ryan Griffin was sacked four times in 43 pass attempts and the Bucs gained just 58 yards on the ground after amassing 31 on the first drive.
As I’ve said before, the trenches are very susceptible to injury, probably more than any other position on the team. It’s integral that the Bucs find the right guys that can make plays and put this team in a position to win.
3. Sean Murphy-Bunting
I know, I know. He’s a rookie. I’m not dogging him at all with these next few sentences.
SMB looked absolutely lost against the Steelers. He looked like a shell of the player that we’ve seen during training camp.
But hey, all that means is this game against the Dolphins is an opportunity to show that not only has he grown over the past week, but that he is able to put a bad performance in the rear view - which is an important trait to have as a defensive back. Especially one in their first year as a pro.
Hopefully the kid just balls out and shows that he is indeed on the upswing. Bucs fans and coaches alike will be more than happy to see it happen, too, I’m sure.
You should check out David Harrison’s Bucs Watch piece for more players to watch on Friday night.