Thursday, January 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs defense faces big test from Blake Bortles, Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE — The Bucs have their second game of the preseason at 7:30 tonight (Ch. 38) against the Jaguars, and the two teams know each other well, having spent two days this week in joint practices.

Expect Bucs starters to play more than the 18 or so snaps they got last week in Philadelphia. Here are the things to watch as the Bucs take another step closer to the Sept. 5 final roster cut deadline and the Sept. 11 season opener at Atlanta:

Big test for Bucs pass defense: Jacksonville passed for an NFL-high 319 yards in its preseason opener. Seven Jaguars caught passes of 19 yards or longer. The Bucs defense didn't allow a play longer than 19 yards in the opener against the Eagles and allowed only two plays (out of 60-plus) longer than 10. That means CBs Brent Grimes and Alterraun Verner have to contain the Jaguars' Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, who combined for three touchdowns last season in a regular-season game in Tampa. It's also a good test for Tampa Bay's third-down defense — the Jaguars went 1-for-11 on third down last week and 2-for-8 last season vs. the Bucs.

Improve in the takeaway battle: The Bucs are tied for the NFL's worst turnover margin at minus-4, after giving up five turnovers against the Eagles and forcing only one. All 17 Eagles points came off Bucs turnovers, so the Tampa Bay defense has yet to give up any real sustained drives. As for Tampa Bay's defense, its only takeaway came late in the game, on an interception by rookie S Isaiah Johnson. In last year's loss to the Bucs, Jaguars QB Blake Bortles threw for 303 yards, with four touchdowns and one interception.

Can Donteea Dye step up? The Bucs receiver drew praise from coach Dirk Koetter last week, though his only catch was negated by an offensive pass interference call. Dye will get first crack on kickoff returns — he took over for Kenny Bell last week after Bell fumbled the opening kickoff. Dye didn't get out past the 25 on any returns last week, but he will have a chance to prove himself on returns and at receiver, where he's in a wide-open battle among largely unproven players for the fourth and fifth receiver jobs.

Will rookie linebackers make a splash? Four first-year linebackers — draft pick Devante Bond and undrafted rookies Luke Rhodes, Cassanova McKinzy and Micah Awe — have impressed in practice. Bond is the top backup at strongside, Rhodes is a second-stringer in the nickel and Awe had a blitzing hit on Eagles rookie QB Carson Wentz that resulted in a hairline fracture to Wentz's ribs. McKinzy is a wild card here — he flashed in the opening weekend of training camp, then missed two weeks with a hamstring injury, including last week's preseason opener. So he must make up for lost time in these final three games — the four rookies are likely battling for two spots on the 53-man roster.

Will backup QBs look sharper? Mike Glennon didn't play a snap in 2015, and he looked rusty in last week's game at Philadelphia, going 7-for-14 for 83 yards with an interception. In last year's preseason, the second game was Glennon's best: 10-of-15 for 121 yards and a touchdown to Russell Shepard in an easy win against the Bengals. Ryan Griffin is making his case for the Bucs to carry a third QB, knowing Glennon is likely to leave in free agency next spring. Would Tampa Bay stash a third QB for a second year, just to secure his rights as a No. 2 in 2017? Griffin drove the offense inside the 10 for a potential tying touchdown in the closing minutes last week, but he forced a bad throw on first and goal to end the rally.

Tell us what you're looking for in the Bucs-Jaguars game Send an email to [email protected] or reply on Twitter to @gregauman.

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