The morning after: Five observations from Bucs-Patriots
A lot happened in last night's Bucs victory over the Patriots. Most was good, but the injury to Davin Joseph was an overwhelming negative.
1. Adam Hayward looked good at middle linebacker
With Mason Foster out with a previously unannounced hamstring injury, the Bucs turned to Hayward in the middle, and that decision paid off. Hayward was all over the field, finishing with seven tackles and a sack of New England quarterback Tom Brady.
I don't know whether it gave coaches reason for pause, but it was some really good film for Hayward. It might not be a stretch to say that middle linebacker is a position to watch. The fact is that Foster hasn't made a ton of splash plays to begin with, so perhaps we shouldn't assume anything.
2. Preston Parker is a liability
I was somewhat surprised to even see Parker anywhere near a punt given how he's gone the way of Steve Sax with his sudden inability to field them cleanly. But the Bucs trotted him out again Friday night and -- predictably -- he mishandled another punt. Parker recovered and the Bucs managed to keep possession, but coaches can't go into the regular season hoping Parker's next fumble doesn't come at the worst possible moment.
So, who are the alternatives? Without knowing who makes the final roster, it's hard to say. But Sammie Stroughter -- who might make the roster for his return ability alone -- is solid. Jordan Shipley fielded a punt, too, though who knows if he makes the team? Michael Smith has been handling kickoffs for the most part, but maybe he can add punts to his repertoire.
3. Keep an eye on Leonard Johnson
The Clearwater native started the game as the Bucs opened with a nickel defense in which he was the third cornerback. What that means isn't clear, but it doesn't suggest things are going in the right direction for Myron Lewis, who has cooled off after an impressive training camp.
Johnson said after the game he is encouraged because the decision to start him probably means coaches trust him. He didn't play flawlessly, but he balanced his bad plays with enough good ones to warrant a further look -- not bad for an undrafted rookie from Iowa State.
If final cuts were today, my prediction is he easily makes the team.
4. Love the blitzing linebackers
If you've watched the Bucs for any length of time, you know sending linebackers after the quarterback is not something they've historically done. The Tony Dungy/Monte Kiffin Tampa 2 style just didn't allow for that.
But get used to it because you're going to see it a lot. There are two reasons for that: For one, Schiano has always been a believer in aggressively pressuring quarterbacks; Secondly, the Bucs haven't proven they can consistently pressure the quarterback with their four down linemen, so they'll do what it takes to get there.
The Bucs were credited with four quarterback hits, and three of the four came from linebackers (Hayward, Quincy Black and Lavonte David).
5. Michael Smith looks like the real deal
It's important not to overreact to what players do in the preseason, but it's not premature to suggest that the Bucs might be onto something with Smith. The rookie running back from Utah State is unquestionably fast, but we might be selling him short as an all-around back. For one, he is a much more physical runner than I expected, and that makes him more viable than the typical small scat backs we often see coming out of college. In fact, at 5-9, 205 pounds, he's not smal at all. He's very willing to take on tacklers and run through them if necessary.
The one caveat here is a big one: Smith, who averaged 6.3 yards per carry Friday, hasn't seen action against many starting defenders because he's played mostly late in these preseason games. But he seems to have the ability to make plays at this level, and he appears to have a certain role in this offense.