Most fans won't recognize many of the players who suit up for the Bucs tonight against the Redskins in the teams' preseason finale. • But don't assume there isn't real significance to what plays out at FedEx Field. • With many starters and other key players sidelined by design tonight, most of those in the game will fight for spots as the Bucs prepare to trim their roster from 75 to 53 on Friday. • "There's going to be a lot of tough decisions to make, and we'll make them and not look back," coach Greg Schiano said. • For those fringe players, this otherwise meaningless game means everything. Here are five, in particular, to watch.
Who? You might not know the name, but this backup kicker made quite the statement in last week's preseason win against the Patriots, booting 51- and 55-yard field goals. It's almost certain that he'll miss the final cut — Connor Barth just signed a contract extension worth more than $13 million — but there's so much movement among kickers around the league that Forbath could get onto other teams' radar with another strong game. "There's only 32 jobs," Forbath said. "So, a lot of it is timing and being in the right place at the right time. I just hope this is the year where I show what I can do and get a chance." Forbath had hoped that would happen last season, but a quadriceps injury sidelined him all year in Dallas and the Cowboys waived him in April. The Bucs claimed him off waivers when Barth was holding out for his deal.
The Bucs won't necessarily keep three quarterbacks, perhaps opting to go with two as they did last season. If there is a third, Ratliff wants it to be him. The job of the No. 3 quarterback in the preseason is difficult. By the time he gets into the game, it's often in a situation that doesn't lend itself to him looking good. But Ratliff should play early and often tonight with starter Josh Freeman unlikely to dress. "I'm really excited," Ratliff said. "It's a great opportunity to run some extended gameplan (elements). In the past few games, when I get in, it's always at the end of the game in a four-minute offense situation or we've been down a lot so we're just running the ball. I'm excited to get this opportunity to do what I love to do." Ratliff played extensively in the opener, but he attempted just two passes against the Titans and didn't play against the Patriots.
He continues to be listed as the third-team strong safety on the depth chart despite his 12 starts in the past two seasons. Will his experience be enough to land a roster spot? That's far from guaranteed considering Grimm has underperformed in the preseason. He's a high-effort player and a willing tackler, but he has been surpassed by Ahmad Black and, lately, Larry Asante. Anything Grimm can do tonight to get an edge and make coaches' decision tougher will help. One unknown here is the Bucs' final number of safeties. If they keep five, Grimm's odds improve substantially.
How do you evaluate a receiver at final cuts who has been on the roster just more than a week? That's what the Bucs will do with Shipley, who has talent but might not be a safe bet depending on the stability of his surgically-repaired left knee. Shipley was waived by the Bengals last week despite the investment they made in him, drafting him in the third round in 2010. What do the Bucs think? "What is it, a week we've had him?" Schiano said. "We'll have a week of evaluation and go off what we have and what he's done in this league pre-surgery, post-surgery, the whole deal. But Jordan's been a fun guy to coach. He's grasped what we're doing pretty well in the short time he's been here." Look for Shipley to return punts again. That job hasn't been locked up by anyone.
The depth chart says Madu is ahead of rookie Michael Smith at running back, but Smith's performance strongly suggests that will change. If that occurs, Madu is squarely on the bubble at a position where the team might keep just three (not including fullbacks). Madu has ability, but the Bucs have a lot of that at running back. Complicating things, Madu is not practice squad eligible after spending nine weeks on the active roster last season (veterans with nine or more weeks on an active roster are ineligible). For Madu, it's the active roster or nothing.