The defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers made their 2021 preseason debut on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium, falling 19-14 to the Cincinnati Bengals. It was very much your typical preseason opener, with only a few snaps from the starters, plenty of mistakes, a bundle of turnovers and loads of penalties.
Before we turn the page to next week’s joint practices with the Tennessee Titans, let’s take a look at five standouts from Saturday night’s exhibition.
The Tampa Bay defense was the story of the night, as it was forcing turnovers left and right and coming up with stops in the red zone time after time. Perhaps the biggest standout of the night for that unit was Javon Hagan, who made his presence felt in the form of three tackles for loss and an interception. Unfortunately, his interception quickly went wrong as he had the ball knocked loose by Cincinnati receiver Mike Thomas during the return. Nonetheless, it was quite the play on the ball from Hagan and it was a promising night for him overall as he looks to stake his claim to a roster spot.
Given his performance in training camp and the buzz surrounding him, 2021 first-round pick Joe Tryon was one of the guys that everyone was most looking forward to seeing on Saturday night. He didn’t disappoint in his first dose of professional action, delivering a crushing hit on a sack of Cincinnati quarterback Brandon Allen in the second quarter. The only problem was that the hit was deemed as “unnecessary roughness,” costing the rookie his first sack. It was certainly a questionable call, as it looked like a good form tackle from the Washington product. Bruce Arians, the Tampa Bay sideline and the crowd at Raymond James Stadium seemed to disagree with the officials as well. You be the judge, but in any case, it was certainly a good rep for Tryon, who made the right tackle look absolutely silly.
He only played one series, but backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert was easily the most impressive of the four Tampa Bay signal-callers on Saturday night. He led the offense’s lone scoring drive in the first quarter, finishing his night 6-of-11 for 64 yards. The veteran, who has long been highly spoken of by his coaches, was sharp in leading Tampa Bay 79 yards on 15 plays in 6:13. He connected with O.J. Howard, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tyler Johnson, Giovani Bernard, Jaelon Darden and Tanner Hudson on his six completions. Talk about spreading the ball around.
The Great Blaine Gabbert is getting hot pic.twitter.com/Y5rZODxFMs— Paul Atwal (@HossYJuke) August 15, 2021
Two years ago, Tanner Hudson certainly made a name for himself in the preseason. Without any exhibition play in 2020, the big tight end had to show out in his first bit of action in 2021. He led the Bucs in targets (eight), catches (five) and yards (50). His biggest catch of the night was an 18-yarder to set up Tampa Bay’s only offensive touchdown, though he later made another impressive catch in traffic over the middle of the field. Bruce Arians recently spoke about Hudson’s regression as a blocker, so this preseason is certainly a big one for him as he battles Codey McElroy for the fourth tight end spot. He got off to a good start on Saturday, and he’ll look to build off of it next week.
Tampa Bay is obviously set at the linebacker position, with Lavonte David and Devin White leading the way in the middle. But building depth at the position is going to be key as the Bucs get their title defense started, and they have both Kevin Minter and rookie K.J. Britt looking to fill those important backup roles. Britt, who has shined throughout training camp, looked good in his first NFL action on Saturday night. He was constantly in and around the ball, finishing with three tackles (two solo) and a fumble recovery. He’ll continue to get key reps with the second-team defense and will have a challenge ahead of him next week as the Tennessee Titans come to town. After a strong start on Saturday, the former Auburn Tiger will be one to monitor throughout the final two preseason games.