The Buccaneers home preseason opener is Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals. Much like last week’s game against the Vikings, the Bucs have several positions that are key to evaluate.
Here are some things to keep an eye on as Tampa Bay plays in front of a national audience on ESPN.
Rookie guard Ali Marpet has gotten some extended looks in practice with the team’s starting offensive line. He has also done well for himself handling All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy in training camp with little struggle. But the Bengals have a stud at defensive tackle too in Geno Atkins. It’s good that Marpet practices against McCoy daily, but facing a guy like Atkins — if he gets such an opportunity — will come a long way in learning at the pro level.
Where’s the rush?
It’s only preseason. But the lack of pressure the Bucs’ starting front displayed last week is concerning. Head coach Lovie Smith has decided to take over the play-calling duties for his defense so whether that makes a difference or not remains to be seen.
However, something has to give. The Vikings offense pretty much had their way with the Buccaneers and that did not go over well with the staff. Even general manager Jason Licht voiced his concerns last week during practice as the Bucs running game was impressive against the defensive front.
McCoy needs to show better push and split double teams. The Bengals actually gameplanned for him for this week so it has a tough task Monday night. Clinton McDonald needs to eat up space and the ends (who rotate) need to unleash the speed they are relied upon to utilize.
Veteran Louis Murphy was the only consistent pass catcher at Minnesota. Receivers had problems with routes at times and on a couple instances it appeared Mike Evans didn’t make an effort to put a hand on a ball — especially on the interception thrown by Jameis Winston. Lovie Smith shared thought the same in his day after game press conference.
But Winston and his receivers need to get into a rhythm. While they seem to be OK during practice, they need to look comfortable with one another during games. The Bengals will present a good test for that.
As we pointed out last week, rookie linebacker Kwon Alexander was one to watch against the Vikings. Because of his play and intensity in practice, he bumped linebacker Bruce Carter out of the middle linebacker spot and was named the starter. Now, Carter finds himself battling for a starting role with Danny Lansanah at strongside linebacker. The play between Lansanah and Carter will be intriguing to follow.