Saturday, November 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

5 things to watch in Bucs' preseason finale

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Bucs coach Dirk Koetter didn't get too specific, but as is the norm in the NFL, most starters will get tonight off as Tampa Bay closes its preseason at home against Washington. • The threat of severe weather makes it only more likely teams will be conservative in protecting established players, leaving a mix of backups and players who will be cut between now and Saturday's NFL deadline to reduce rosters from 75 to 53 players. • Still, you can read a lot from a player's status in the preseason finale; last year, 25 of the 26 players held out of the game made the initial 53-man roster, with another 15 coming from the actual starters in the game. • Here are five things to watch:

The battle for No. 5 WR

1. With Donteea Dye waived due to a hamstring injury, there's one last chance for in-house options to make their case. The three top contenders for the No. 5 spot are two 2015 draft picks, Kenny Bell (right) and Evan Spencer (who faces the team that drafted him), and Lakewood's Bernard Reedy, who had a 43-yard punt return in Friday's win against the Browns. All have had modest preseason production, all late in games: Reedy has three catches for 44 yards, Spencer two for 27 and Bell one for 9. Less likely but still alive are Jonathan Krause (three for 56) and Freddie Martino (two for 30).

Young offensive linemen

2. Aside from veterans like C Evan Smith and T Gosder Cherilus, the Bucs will likely use younger, less experienced players, giving a chance for someone to lock up the eighth and ninth offensive line spots. That group includes undrafted rookie Leonard Wester, the second-team left tackle throughout camp, and draft pick Caleb Benenoch, who recently returned after missing three weeks with an ankle injury. Josh Allen, who started at guard Friday, can build off a strong performance with another start, and Ben Gottschalk has the same center/guard flexibility as Allen.

Kickoff return

3. With Dye's injury and cut, kickoff return is up for grabs. Bell, who fumbled the opening kickoff in the first preseason game and hasn't had one since, hoped for a shot, as did rookie safety Ryan Smith, who got 19 yards on his only chance as the rest were touchbacks. Reedy has 39 yards on two returns as well, and would likely take punts tonight for starter Adam Humphries.

How many sacks?

4. After getting eight sacks in Friday's win against the Browns, the Bucs have 13 in the preseason, trailing only the Broncos (14). The Bucs are likely to hold out top DE Robert Ayers (left), but which others get the night off? Rookie Noah Spence and other speed rushers like Jacquies Smith and Howard Jones could get extended reps with only seven ends on the roster. And keep an eye on DE Kourtnei Brown, who has been cut 10 times by seven teams since 2012.

Practice squad

5. Many will stick around with a six-figure job on the 10-man practice squad. If we had to guess at 10 such names: RB Peyton Barber, WR Bernard Reedy, WR Evan Spencer, TE Alan Cross, OT Kelvin Palmer, DE Channing Ward, DT DaVonte Lambert, LB Micah Awe, CB Javien Elliott and S Isaiah Johnson.

Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.

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