Five things to watch in Bucs-Patriots game
With the Bucs meeting the Patriots Thursday night, I put together a list of things to keep your eye on during the game. It runs in tomorrow's newspaper, but here it is in its unedited form in the meantime.
Gerald McCoy’s first action
McCoy, the third overall pick in the draft last year, hasn’t suited up for a game since December 12, when he tore a biceps and was placed on injured reserve. The rehab hampered his offseason work to an extent. Then, McCoy suffered a shoulder injury the first week of camp that sidelined him for the preseason opener.
So, tonight’s debut by McCoy has been kind of a long time in the making. He’s been solid during training camp, but coaches always prefer to see players in live action.
This is will be McCoy’s first action with Clayborn riding shotgun at right end.
Will Freeman be sharper?
No one on the Bucs’ coaching staff is losing sleep worrying about how Josh Freeman will play this season. But that doesn’t mean he can’t improve.
Freeman was a bit erratic on some of his throws at Kansas City last week, saying, “a couple of those first throws were a little bit off.” It wasn’t anything to obsess over, but offensive coordinator Greg Olson has said he felt quarterbacks would be most affected by the layoff created by the lockout. Although Freeman threw often with teammates, he didn’t do so in a full-squad setting.
He’s also forced a few throws in camp, but Freeman has high personal expectations and demands a great deal from himself. With that, expect him to be sharper tonight.
Can they keep up the pass rush?
The Bucs collected six sacks against Chiefs quarterbacks in their preseason opener, but they’ll likely get a better test tonight. The Patriots have a more formidable offensive line and a guy named Tom Brady at quarterback (there’s a chance he plays tonight after sitting out last week).
The addition of McCoy can’t hurt, as he joins a front seven that was relentless with its pressure in the preseason opener. The Bucs also have been showing an assortment of blitzes in practice, though coaches often don’t like to show much in the way of specifics during the preseason.
The Bucs would be encouraged to see rookie end Da’Quan Bowers get in on some of the action. He played last week but didn’t have a terribly significant impact. But the knee
feels good, so it’s a start.
Mason Foster in the nickel
On Mason Foster’s first defensive series as a pro, the rookie middle linebacker played first down then immediately left the game as the Bucs switched to a nickel package on second-and-long.
Coach Raheem Morris is leaving Foster out of the lineup in nickel packages (which replace a linebacker with an extra defensive back) to simplify things for him. But the coach said he plans to play Foster in some nickel situations tonight for some on-the-job training.
So, we should get a look at the rookie’s pass-coverage ability and decision-making in more complex passing situations.
Erik Lorig fills in at fullback
It’s not a position most people follow during a game, but if you get the chance, follow fullback Erik Lorig, who will get a great deal of the snaps at fullback tonight.
The Bucs like backup running back Kregg Lumpkin did last week, but they’ve prefer to also involve veteran Earnest Graham at tailback, too. That, however, will require Lorig proving he’s capable of taking on the lion’s share of the fullback duties, which currently belong to Graham.
Lorig missed the preseason opener with an Achilles’ injury but returns tonight.