Saturday, January 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

5 things to watch in Bucs preseason opener

Running back

Spoiler alert: Running back Doug Martin won't play much, if at all.

After rushing for a Tampa Bay rookie-record 1,454 yards last season, there's little to be gained by exposing Martin to any pounding.

But the position is one of the most intriguing areas of the roster with veterans and young players alike fighting to establish roles or, in some cases, make the team.

Sixth-round pick Mike James and free agent signees Brian Leonard and Peyton Hillis make their debuts. Also in the mix: second-year player Michael Smith, who is trying to carve out a bigger role.

"Right now, we're all battling," Smith said. "We're all great athletes, and it's very deep back there. So once we get an opportunity, we have to shine and make the most of the opportunity. That's what we've been preaching to each other. When you get on that field, you can't waste that opportunity because it'll be an opportunity lost."

The most likely scenario has the Bucs keeping three tailbacks and, perhaps, a fullback. Erik Lorig is the incumbent fullback, but Hillis and Leonard have the potential to play there, too.

"As time goes on, the ones who are more consistent and make plays are the ones who are going to be there," Leonard said. "So I have to make plays in the preseason and define my role."

Tight end

Chances are, you won't see projected starter Luke Stocker tonight. He's still recovering from a calf strain that has significantly limited his practice time.

That has allowed others to shine, specifically free agent signee Tom Crabtree. He joined the Bucs looking for a bigger role than the one he had in Green Bay, and he has a chance to achieve that. But he remains largely unproven as does the rest of the tight end group, including Stocker.

That's why the Bucs are noncommittal on who will assume what role.

"We need that group to play better than it did last year," coach Greg Schiano said. "It may be by committee."

Defensive end

We know the Bucs are going all in with Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, but Clayborn's current groin injury is a reminder that depth remains an issue.

The Bucs need to find out if rookies William Gholston and Steven Means are ready to play on Sundays. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, who started 14 games last season, is in the mix while getting first-team reps in Clayborn's absence.

Johnthan Banks' debut

You won't see star cornerback Darrelle Revis (torn left ACL) tonight and perhaps not until the regular season.

Second-round pick Johnthan Banks makes his debut, and it will be interesting to see if he matches his solid practice performances. The speed kicks up a notch from training camp to preseason games, and the test is if Banks can keep up.

Barron's new role

It might not be obvious, but astute observers will notice second-year safety Mark Barron will, at times, play a slightly different role this season.

With the retirement of Ronde Barber, the 2012 first-round pick is often playing near the line of scrimmage, especially when the Bucs insert six defensive backs. That can leave him matched up with a tight end or put him in position to use his tackling ability on run support.

Starters won't play much, but those who have new roles, such as Barron, might play longer.

"Mark Barron's playing the dime now," Schiano said. "So we want to make sure he gets a couple of shots at the dime."

 
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