Friday, April 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Five Tampa Bay Buccaneers to watch as preseason gets under way Friday night at Miami

The Bucs roster looks vastly different after seven months of reshaping under coach Greg Schiano.

Tonight, the result of that offseason crafting finally comes into some focus with the preseason opener at Miami. Here are five players to watch.

SS Mark Barron

Yes, he's the first of the team's two first-round picks. This alone puts Barron under a microscope.

But the biggest reason for close examination of his play is less obvious. Many fans have been puzzled by the lack of detailed reports from training camp on his performance. The cause? For one, the starting strong safety has been slowed by a toe injury that kept him out a few days. But he also doesn't always shine in practices because he is a physical and punishing player.

You cannot fully appreciate such a player in the confines of practice, with strict limitations on contact. If Barron gets a running start against a ballcarrier tonight, you'll likely see the impact you've been looking for.

Barron just wants to experience live action.

"The only thing I want to do is to go out and get the feel for the game at this level, to really see what it's like," he said.

WR Tiquan Underwood

For a guy with 11 career receptions — fewest among the top six receivers on the roster — Underwood is making a ton of plays in training camp.

But can he do it in actual games, preseason or otherwise?

He presents a matchup problem for defenses because he possesses something the team needs more of: pure speed. He can run by defensive backs, and in practice he has been a reliable downfield target.

The former Greg Schiano pupil at Rutgers has been discarded by the Jaguars and Patriots, but he hasn't looked like a journeyman during training camp, so maybe his hard work is paying off.

"I've been playing more confident, but just trying to get better," he said.

QB Dan Orlovsky

His acquisition during the offseason was not a splashy headline, but Orlovsky has the look of a solid backup. He has the right attitude, eagerly supporting starter Josh Freeman and trying to share tips he has learned from an eight-year NFL career.

He'll play a lot tonight because Freeman will likely be limited. And with the team carrying just three quarterbacks — many teams have four in preseason — coaches won't have to obsess over how to split up playing time. Brett Ratliff is the third-team quarterback.

Orlovsky can be effective when he has weapons. At times, he's been a victim of circumstance, playing for the winless Lions in 2008 and the 2-14 Colts in 2011 (he authored both of Indy's victories, by the way).

FS Ronde Barber

He won't play much, or so we think. Barber never has been a fan of playing extensively in the preseason.

But this isn't like other years. He will make his debut at free safety, leaving the comfort of the cornerback position he prefers for the first time in his 16-year career.

There will be adjustments. Sometimes, he'll have to cover wide stretches of field to make plays on the ball. Other times, he'll have to ramble at full speed against oncoming ball carriers.

These are much different tasks than the ones the Bucs previously asked of him as a cornerback in the old Tampa Two-based system.

Barber is smart, tough and instinctive, but that doesn't mean this change will be easy.

LB LaVonte David

The Miami native makes his NFL debut not far from his old stomping grounds, but this is no time to be sentimental.

The Bucs are counting on the rookie from the University of Nebraska to start at weakside linebacker. He has had a strong training camp, displaying great instincts near the line of scrimmage and the coverage ability the team was drawn to.

The speed of the NFL game takes some adjusting to, and this will be his first taste. How quickly he makes that adjustment likely will determine how successful he'll be this season.

     
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