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Buccaneers on the Bubble: Preseason Week 3

Backups made their final pitches to make the roster - either through the 53-man or the practice squad.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Well, we’ll start with the good news.

Tom Brady is officially back! He looked sharp, as did the rest of the Buccaneers’ first-teamers in the first quarter. Honestly, the Tampa Bay starters absolutely dominated the Indianapolis Colts starters, especially on defense, which bodes well for their readiness ahead of the regular season opener in two weeks.

Unfortunately, it quickly went south from there as the backups trickled onto the field. Indy completely took over in the second half and handed the Bucs a winless preseason, as the latter lost 27-10.

It wasn’t ideal evaluating conditions as the big roster crunch beckons — the backup units looked sloppy and unfocused. Many players will have to rest of their laurels, hoping their performances from training camp and previous preseason games give them the boon they need.

Let’s look at some bubble players one last time.

Players who helped themselves

LB Olakunle Fatukasi - Nothing shocking here. Fatukasi, after killing it the first two games, once again delivered with the snaps he received. He played ahead of every other backup linebacker, and he recorded 5 total tackles and 1 pass defensed. One tackle included shooting the gap at the 1 yard line to delay the inevitable score. The dude just makes plays, and it would honestly be shocking to see him omitted from the final 53.

TE Ko Kieft - The Buccaneers drafted Kieft to be a mean SOB who beats people up in the blocking game, and the rookie from Minnesota has lived up to that expectation. Kieft made some punishing blocks on Saturday in a variety of ways. He lined up as a fullback and served as a lead blocker, helping to spring a nice run from Rachaad White. He delivered other key blocks, both moving across the backside of the formation and as a traditional in-line. He should earn his spot on the roster as the fourth tight end.

EDGE Andre Anthony - For the second week in a row, Anthony showcased a strong edge rush to record a third-down sack. While making the 53-man will be tight for the rookie out of LSU, Anthony has shown enough to take a spot on the practice squad – as long as another team doesn’t sign him.

S Chris Cooper - He’s been up and down this preseason, but Cooper did put together a good game on special teams and defense against Indy. He tied for the team lead in tackles with 5, and he also netted a sack on a safety blitz. It’s anyone’s guess whether Cooper did enough to earn a spot over undrafted free agent Nolan Turner, but he at least has his name in the conversation.

DT Deadrin Senat - He wasn’t expected to do much given his extensive injury history and lack of consistency, but Senat has displayed enough that he deserves to stick on the practice squad as nose tackle depth. He made three more tackles on Saturday, including a strong run stuff inside the 5 yard line. It’ll be tough to make the 53-man when he doesn’t contribute the same special teams value as other players like Pat O’Connor, but Senat is definitely decent insurance if anything were to happen to Vita Vea or Rakeem Nunez-Roches.

CB Don Gardner - Between a pair of special teams tackles against the Colts and generally encouraging play on defense throughout the preseason, Gardner has put himself in a good position to pass through onto the practice squad. It seems like he has shown more than Kyler McMichael, but the team might choose to add both to the reserve corps.

Players who failed to stand out

Basically every receiver - It might be the Bucs playing 4D chess in some instances, but the passing game was completely ineffective once the depth took over. Tyler Johnson did well to further secure his place on the roster, but names like Scotty Miller and Jaelon Darden did absolutely nothing to help themselves.

Miller, in particular, seems screwed. It’s blunt, but he caught one pass for -1 yard on two targets – the other target featured him completely whiffing on a wide open opportunity. His contributions to the Super Bowl team will always be appreciated, but Miller needs a fresh start elsewhere and the team should be able to net a future pick for him.

Darden has simply shown little positive progress as a receiver or returner. He caught two passes for 9 yards, and he fielded three total kicks that resulted in two fair catches inside the 10 yard line and a 12 yard kickoff return. His draft standing might stave off a cut, but this guy isn’t it.

None of the UDFAs – Deven Thompkins, Jerreth Sterns and Kaylon Geiger – saw any significant run on offense, which seems curious, but it might be a calculated maneuver.

All three have stood out in some way or another throughout preseason, so they’re worthy of the designations if true.

K Jose Borregales - It already seemed like any kicking competition came to an end last week, but Borregales sealed his own fate by missing a 52 yard field goal against the Colts. The young kicker has talent, but it’s clear he’s not ready to unseat veteran Ryan Succop at this time. If he passes through the free agency gauntlet without being offered a starting job by another team, I’d imagine you’ll see him back on the practice squad as an emergency kicker.

LB Grant Stuard - This highlights the brutal nature of the game. Stuard, 2021’s Mr. Irrelevant, carved out a role as a special teams ace who maximized his opportunities. Unfortunately, a bad hamstring injury held him out for weeks this preseason and it’s likely going to cost him in some way or another. Fatukasi simply has looked better, and Stuard didn’t even get into the game until late as the fifth linebacker in line. He feels practice squad bound, so it could be worse, but it’s undoubtedly disappointing for him after bucking the odds last season.