Bucs-Dolphins post game wrap-up
After spending time with coach Raheem Morris and players in the locker room following tonight's game, I wanted to bring you a few thoughts and observations.
First, on the injury front, Maurice Stovall was wearing a walking boot on his foot after the game but said his ankle injury didn't seem serious. He called the boot "precautionary." There wasn't a whole lot more in the way of consequential injuries.
So, let's take a look at a few more important aspects of the game.
How did Gerald McCoy play?
No, first-round defensive tackle Gerald McCoy didn't exactly light up the stat sheet. He finished without a tackle in the unofficial game stats. But that doesn't mean he didn't have an impact. On one Dolphins possession, when Miami went into its two-minute offense, the Bucs turned McCoy loose to rush the passer. He didn't get there, but Morris said there was a reason for that.
"My wish came true that we’d get a two-minute (situation) and we could put him out there and get some two-minute rushes," Morris said. "Unfortunately he got a double team every time."
But here's the upshot: Michael Bennett's sack was a result of McCoy eating a double team and leaving Bennett with a favorable matchup, according to Morris.
"Michael Bennett was able to go out there and get a sack because of it," Morris said. "That’s a part of it. It was awesome."
What's the deal with Derrick Ward?
Running back Derrick Ward finished with 20 yards on 12 carries, a 1.7-yard per carry average. During the game, he was visibly frustrated about something. Afterward, quarterback Josh Johnson said Ward was aggravated by having to repeatedly run in the muddy infield, which is part of the baseball infield used by the Marlins when they play at Sun Life Stadium. Ward said the same thing when I asked him, making it clear he wasn't upset about the performance of his line or other members of the offense.
Several players said the conditions in that part of the field were unsafe and, at best, they made getting traction next to impossible. It probably played a sizable role in his lackluster performance. But when asked afterward whether Ward was frustrated about something during the game, Morris gave a curious answer.
"I don't know if it's frustration for Derrick," Morris said. "I think he's just got to go out there and be mentally tough and just go out there and do it. Every once in awhile, you get a bad run. (Kareem Huggins) found a way to grind through it with that same unit. So he's got to find a way to grind through with that same unit as well. I'm not ready to throw those guys under the bus. I'm not ready to throw Derrick Ward under the bus until we get to evaluate the tape and see what was good."
Was there any progress in the Piscitelli-Jones battle?
This game probably didn't decide things between Sabby Piscitelli and Sean Jones, who are vying to start at safety opposite Tanard Jackson. But the Bucs did play both of them simultaneously for much of the first half after Jackson made his early exit.
Piscitelli said he wasn't sure whether that was by design, but he said he thinks coaches will take their time to make a call between them. His guess was that nothing would be officially decided before the end of the preseason.
Was there any progress in the left guard battle?
To be completely honest, it was hard to tell. Jeremy Zuttah started the game at left guard and then took his place at center with the second team offensive line. Keydrick Vincent played left guard with the second team and seemed to play pretty physically.
Here's what I think is going on here. If Vincent wins the left guard job – a distinct possibility – Zuttah could be relegated to the backup center role permanently. He also would still have the ability to back up at either guard spot and, in a pinch, at tackle. My feeling is that this is a role the Bucs see as a good fit for Zuttah. But this is provided Vincent doesn't disappoint them or get hurt. He shook off a twisted ankle in Thursday's practice to play tonight. I'm guessing he's still leading this position battle.
Is E.J. Biggers the new nickel back?
Arguably the more pleasant surprise in this game was the play of E.J. Biggers.
He has been shining lately in training camp and he has looked to have steadily improved, but until you see it under the lights, one never knows for certain. Now, one solid game doesn't make a career for a kid who has never played in a regular-season game, but Biggers is off to a very, very fast start.
The reason I might give him the nod over Elbert Mack right now is the fact that Biggers plays with the sort of physicality that Mack can't provide. At 6 feet, Biggers is longer and looks to have put on some weight (though he's still listed at 180 pounds). I liked the fact that Biggers was willing to mix it up in the backfield with guys like Ricky Williams and he was aggressive in defending Brandon Marshall, breaking up a pass attempt to the Miami superstar in the first quarter.
Biggers got a chance to play against starters tonight because Aqib Talib (personal reasons) was out. Mack and Ronde Barber started the game, but Barber played all of a series before giving way to Biggers. He played well into the second half and was solid throughout.
And don't overlook the fact that Biggers was playing quite a bit in the slot. I'm not suggesting he's going to take Ronde Barber's spot, but Morris had him blitzing from the slot like Biggers had a No. 20. on his chest.
With third-round pick Myron Lewis missing valuable time with his hamstring injury, Biggers has a golden opportunity. And he isn't wasting any time after being sidelined for all of 2009 as a rookie with a shoulder injury.
"I have a chip on my shoulder," he said after the game. "Being 3-13 last year, everybody has a chip on their shoulder, but I have a bigger one than everybody else because I missed the whole season. It was hard."
Don't say I didn't tell you: Keep an eye on this kid.