In the Bucs' third preseason game, you're likely to see starters get their most extensive action. It's traditionally the game coaches like to use as their gauge for the regular season and allows top-tier players to rest or play sparingly in the preseason finale. Here, then, are five things to look for tonight:
Can the D keep it up?
The starting defense has been virtually airtight in the first two games and has yet to yield a touchdown. In fact, any points have been hard to come by. Each of the first two opponents (Dolphins and Patriots) have managed just a single field goal in the first halves. Tonight will be a stiffer test as Jacksonville also is likely to play its starters for an extended period. Also, keep an eye on the starting front four, which has yet to record a sack.
The O-line, sans Joseph
This will be the first action since starting right guard Davin Joseph broke his right foot Sunday against New England. So with the starting line expected to play quite some time, that means rookie Jeremy Zuttah will have to take on the best the Jacksonville defense has to offer. Joseph was a one-man wrecking crew Sunday, and the third-round pick will have big shoes to fill. It will be interesting to see if he can show the same type of athleticism and power Joseph is renowned for. Tonight might be the best indication of just how far this fast-rising rookie has come.
The quick strike
Yes, this is the preseason and coaches use their playbook's most vanilla material. Still, it would be nice to see the Bucs show some quick-strike capability. While they have scoring drives of 19, 13 and 17 plays, there has been a lack of explosive plays sometimes needed to win close games. Other than Michael Bennett's 31-yard run against Miami and Antonio Bryant's 33-yard catch against New England, the Bucs have nickeled-and-dimed their way to the end zone — not that there's anything wrong with that.
The Bucs must trim their roster by five on Tuesday. Tonight is the final opportunity for those on the bubble to influence the looming decisions. But while many in jeopardy of being released are feeling pressure to make memorable plays, the key is to do so within the confines of the system. Try too hard and coaches will remember you for the wrong reasons as mistakes are likely to result. Still, the first round of cuts will be far less painful than the second, when teams are required to go from 75 to 53 players on Aug. 30.
The quarterback rotation
Jeff Garcia is set to see his first playing time, having nearly recovered from his weeks-old strained right calf. But he won't stick around long, not with coach Jon Gruden's bad luck with keeping quarterbacks healthy. Once he leaves, Gruden's decision on a No. 2 will be telling. He has alternated between Brian Griese and Luke McCown up to this point, but tonight's first quarterback off the bench will see extensive action with the starting lineup. Could the decision give us a peek into Gruden's mind-set? Probably.