The win or loss won’t count for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as far as their 2019 final standings are concerned, but there are plenty of players with plenty of reasons to care about what happens Friday night in Pittsburgh. Here are the five players I’m keeping a close eye on for pre-season Week 1.
QUARTERBACK, JAMEIS WINSTON
Pre-season Week 1 means nothing to a lot of people. But for Jameis Winston, it’s literally the first step in this pivotal season which will ultimately decide whether or not he is truly the future in Tampa Bay.
No, this week won’t decide it. But if he’s taking the steps we’re being told he’s taking in camp, then there should be some signs of it.
Whether it be a hot route, an audible or just seeing him tuck the ball in a situation where he’d risk it all in the past. If there’s a thread there, we want to see it.
LINEBACKER, DEVIN WHITE
From the quarterback to the quarterback of the defense. Devin White carried a lot of hype into his being the fifth overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, and this will be our first look at the rookie against live competition.
Like Winston, we’re not expecting a whole lot of playing time for White, but he might get a little more since he is a rookie.
No matter how many snaps he plays, we’re looking for some of the leadership and communication skills he’s expected to bring to the Buccaneers, as well as some of the speed and range that made him a physically worthy Top-5 draft pick in the first place.
RUNNING BACK, RONALD JONES
I’ve said it on the Locked On Bucs Podcast, and I’ll write it here. For as much encouragement as there is surrounding Ronald Jones right now, if he breaks a big play - especially a long touchdown run - in Pittsburgh, then his hype train is going to kick into high gear.
Rojo was drafted to give Tampa Bay a homerun hitter out of the backfield, and if his early camp performances are any real indication to what 2019 could bring, this should be fun.
SAFETY, MIKE EDWARDS
If there’s been one consistently prominent name in camp from the young group of rookies, it’s been Mike Edwards.
Edwards came in as a guy plenty expected to push for early playing time, and now he’s a flat-out favorite to grab a starting position in the Buccaneers secondary.
He’s listed as a starter entering this game, and head coach Bruce Arians has gone on record saying the young guys would be getting the bulk of the playing time.
So while most of the starters will probably dip out pretty quickly, Edwards should get some extra work.
Seeing what he can do against the Steelers’ starters - those of them that play anyway - and seeing how he plays as the game moves forward as well, will be helpful indicators to deciphering whether or not camp-badger will become NFL Badger when the games count.
KICKER, MATT GAY
Who doesn’t love a good kicker competition?
Matt Gay has been making some impressive kicks in camp. He’s also missed some ‘easy’ extra point tries.
Coach Arians said earlier this week that it doesn’t matter how he kicks in practice, what matters is how he kicks in the games.
The Steelers will be trying to shake the rookie, block the rookie, and the crowd will try to terrible towel him into oblivion.
I don’t know that I’ve ever been in a situation where I hoped a team stalled out on the opposing 43-yard line more than I will be on Friday night.
Heinz Field isn’t the Bucs practice facility, but it’s exactly where Gay will have to make his mark if he’s going to stay the favorite in this tense pre-season battle.
So, those are the five guys we’re watching the closest. But there are plenty others to be watching too. Who is the sixth-man?
Who’s the sixth player we should be watching when the Buccaneers play the Steelers?
This poll is closed
RG, Alex Cappa
OLB, Noah Spence
CB, Vernon Hargreves
DE, Ndamukong Suh
NT, Beau Allen