Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs-Browns: Things to watch when Tampa Bay plays Cleveland

TAMPA — The Bucs get to show off their 2017 team at home for the first time Saturday against the Browns, with starters expected to play into the second half.

You may have forgotten last year's Bucs-Browns preseason game — Tampa Bay jumped to a 27-3 lead in the first half, with a 73-yard Adam Humphries punt-return touchdown and two touchdown passes for Jameis Winston.

Here are five things to watch, both when the starters are in and well after they're gone:

1. RED ZONE SCORING

The Bucs outgained Jacksonville 240-59 in the first half. Because they twice had to settle for field goals, their lead was just 12-0. The Bucs and Giants are the only NFL teams without a touchdown pass in the preseason, so converting in the red zone will be a major focus against Cleveland. If Mike Evans is held out as expected, watch for rookie Chris Godwin to get a lot of targets stepping in as a starting receiver.

2. DEFENSIVE TAKEAWAYS

Last year's five-game win streak was predicated by the defense dominating with takeaways. Tampa Bay has only one in two preseason games — Vernon Hargreaves' interception on the opening drive at Cincinnati. The only team with zero is ... New England.

Will the Bucs be more aggressive against Cleveland rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer? He's the NFL preseason's third-best in QB passer rating, largely against backups. Cleveland put big money into its offensive line in the offseason, so pressure won't come easy.

3. POSITION BATTLES

Can you name the only Bucs defensive lineman with a preseason sack? It's 24-year-old Sterling Bailey, still on the outside but challenging for a roster spot. DaVonte Lambert, Ryan Russell and George Johnson are also battling to claim a job as a backup defensive end, and the two mammoth defensive tackles, Sealver Siliga and rookie Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, are competing for the last job inside.

Can Donteea Dye, out 17 days with an ankle injury, make a last-minute claim to the fifth receiver job, up against Freddie Martino, Bernard Reedy and Josh Huff? Will special-teams player Cameron Lynch hold off rookie Riley Bullough and CFL import Jeff Knox for the last linebacker job? How will Leonard Wester and Mike Liedtke compete for perhaps the final offensive line spot?

4. CAN THEY KEEP WINSTON CLEAN?

Winston smiled last week, talking about how "super-clean" his offensive line has kept him in the first two preseason games. With right tackle Demar Dotson out and backup Caleb Benenoch likely as well, the Bucs tackles will be challenged, especially by No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett, who already has a sack in preseason.

Don't forget about the running game — expect much more from Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims, who will be counted on in the first three games while Doug Martin is serving his suspension. They've been oddly quiet. Rodgers has seven carries for just 15 yards, and Sims had two nice runs but hasn't caught a pass yet.

5. SERIOUSLY THOUGH, FIELD GOALS

The Bucs would like very much to stop talking about kicking concerns, and Nick Folk has had a strong week of practice in accuracy and distance. A mistake-free night would have shift the narrative a bit -- the Bucs are 0-for-2 on extra points this preseason, with Folk having one blocked. The rest of the NFL went into this week 112 for 114 on extra points.

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

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