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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Bucs' Michael Bennett, Frank Okam might have solidified starting jobs



Among the things we learned in Saturday night's preseason affair against the Dolphins was that two particular Tampa Bay defenders might have solidified starting roles for the regular season.

Bucs defensive end Michael Bennett and nose tackle Frank Okam had very solid performances and have the inside track at being in the starting lineup come opening day.

Let's start with Bennett. He finished with a sack of Miami's Chad Henne and had three tackles for losses, including a knockdown of running back Reggie Bush after knifing into the Dolphins' backfield. Bennett left the game with an apparent head injury, but indicated it wasn't serious. If he's ready to go on opening day, it's hard to conceive a scenario where rookie Da'Quan Bowers overtakes him at left defensive end.

That's not to say that Bowers isn't ready to be a factor. He was much improved against the Dolphins, getting his first sack of the preseason and being more of a presence than he's been in previous games. But Bennett's quickness, pass-rush skills, ability to defend the run and his versatility (he can play inside on passing downs) makes him a player who will be hard to keep off the field.

As for Okam, he has taken full advantage of Roy Miller's knee injury suffered in the preseason opener. Since then, Okam has been a constant presence, often requiring double teams. Even at times when he doesn't get into the backfield, he draws enough attention to create opportunities for other linemen.

But Okam sometimes has done the job himself. There was no greater example than in the second quarter against the Dolphins, when Okam blew up a second-and-goal play from the Tampa Bay 1-yard line. Okam burst through a gap and leveled Bush for a 3-yard loss. That left the Dolphins in a third-and-goal from the 4, which they did not convert.

Even if Miller returns from his knee injury later this week, as he hopes, don't expect Raheem Morris to make a snap decision and bench Okam given the way he's playing. The splash plays he's providing typically only come from the 3-technique position -- not the nose tackle. If the Bucs can consistently get similar production from Gerald McCoy at the 3-technique, this defensive line should be able to make things very interesting this season.

[Last modified: Sunday, August 28, 2011 11:47am]


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