TAMPA — For most of the Bucs starters, it's a night off.
On the other end of the roster, however, tonight's preseason finale against the Redskins is the last chance. One more game to convince the Bucs you belong on the 53-man roster, which is why fullback Jorvorskie Lane will play with his left hand heavily wrapped after a "deep, deep bruise" last week, and why cornerback Anthony Gaitor is playing safety for the first time since high school.
"I have to show I'm worth being on this roster, that I give something to this defense," said Larry English, a former Chargers first-round draft pick who is challenging for a job at defensive end. "I'm just trying to make a difference every snap that I'm out there, to show them I can get out there and work."
English, who joined Tampa Bay two weeks ago halfway through preseason camp, had two sacks in Saturday's game at Buffalo. He's battling another former high-round pick, Da'Quan Bowers, for a backup job. Bowers has missed the past two games with a groin injury and isn't likely to play tonight, and between injuries and starters resting, English should have a long final audition.
"I definitely feel like there's a fit, some things I can contribute," English said. "I'm trying to show these coaches and this front-office staff what I can bring to the table."
The uncertainty of roster cuts is why undrafted rookie Solomon Patton, who seems to have secured the kickoff and punt return jobs, wants to prove himself as a receiver tonight. It's why another speedy former Gator, running back Jeff Demps, needs to break loose on a big play after gaining no more than 8 yards on any of his 22 offensive touches this preseason.
"I never know. Nobody ever knows," said running back Mike James, hopeful of returning from a shoulder injury to solidify his own place on the final roster. "It's about camaraderie. We try to enjoy the time we have with each other. We get to be good friends in this locker room, besides football."
A player's chances of making the team can change in a single day — veteran guard Oniel Cousins, who started the past two games at left guard, is likely relegated to a backup role after the acquisition of Pro Bowl player Logan Mankins. That means Cousins is competing with rookies Kadeem Edwards and Andrew Miller for a job — keep an eye on which backups show they can play center, a versatility that could decide the final spot on the offensive line.
On defense, two moves Tuesday, placing Danny Gorrer on injured reserve and waiving Deveron Carr, mean undrafted rookie Keith Lewis is a rare healthy cornerback, trying to stick as a ninth or 10th defensive back. The sixth linebacker job is also up for grabs, with players who are normally limited to special teams roles getting a chance to get key snaps on defense.
"I know that Thursday is real big for me if I want to make this team," said second-year pro Ka'Lial Glaud, who matched a team high with 19 special teams snaps against the Bills. "All my focus is showing up on Thursday and making some plays out there."
Sometimes, even a dominating final preseason game can't save you from the final cuts — in 2012, Bucs backup safety Sean Baker had two interceptions and a fumble recovery against the Redskins, only to be cut; last year, linebacker Najee Goode, a former Bucs draft pick, returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown, only to be cut.
Goode is a reminder to Bucs on the bubble to keep their heads up — after being cut by Tampa Bay, he was claimed by the Eagles and finished with 21 tackles.
"When it's time for that 53-man roster, there's going to be somebody who was in the background, working hard, that nobody sees," Glaud said.