It's Week 3 of the preseason, meaning it's time to sit up and pay attention. Bucs coach Greg Schiano said starters could play into the second half tonight against the Patriots if the game goes the way his staff projects. That means there will be plenty of opportunities to evaluate players during the primary regular-season dress rehearsal. So here are five to watch.
LT Donald Penn
Perhaps the best news the Bucs have gotten this preseason is Penn has recovered from the strained calf that kept him out of more than two weeks of camp and the first two games. Given the importance of his position, entering the season without him would have been nerve-racking for quarterback Josh Freeman. Penn said while he's in good shape physically and has lost weight, he's still getting into football shape. "It's not the same as working out on the side when you have all this gear on," he said. "I've been going hard in practice trying to be ready. Everything else is good. I just need to get my timing down, get my technique down, knock the rust off. I have a lot of catching up to do."
TE Luke Stocker
For the second straight season, it has been a difficult camp for the 2011 fourth-round pick. He missed most of last year's with a hip injury, and he has been limited by injuries this preseason, too. If Stocker makes it onto the field, it will be interesting to see where he fits in as the starters and key role players see extended playing time. When the team uses two tight ends or a power formation, it needs Stocker and his blocking ability. He has been in and out of action since sustaining a concussion during practice Aug. 13. But coaches are eager to see what he can contribute because fellow tight end Dallas Clark is not an ideal blocker.
LB Lavonte David
This rookie out of Nebraska is off to a good start after two games, but this will be a unique test. With the Patriots so savvy and heavy in their use of tight ends, he could be asked to take on former Gator Aaron Hernandez and/or Rob Gronkowski in coverage. The Bucs often use David in their nickel package on passing downs, meaning it's fairly likely he will be dropping into coverage. Remember, when the Bucs drafted David in the second round, they coveted his coverage skills. Look for those to be put to the test against New England.
RT Jeremy Trueblood
Let's get this out of the way: Trueblood probably will start at right tackle in Week 1. However, coach Greg Schiano eagerly pointed out the position is still, technically, a competition. That's why you will see Demar Dotson take some snaps there, perhaps even with the first team. Dotson taking a few snaps with the starters during practice this week led to the questions in the first place. Schiano said he didn't anticipate a change, but Trueblood can't give coaches a reason to consider one by committing false starts and giving up quarterback hits as he did last week against Tennessee.
DT Gerald McCoy
With the Patriots likely to use their up-tempo offense at some point, it will be up to McCoy and the defensive line to throw off quarterback Tom Brady's rhythm by pushing the pocket and getting heat on him. For what it's worth, the Bucs have just one sack in two games. But if they can get to Brady — who knows how to avoid sacks well— that would be a statement of sorts. There will be a lot of pressure on the third overall pick in 2010 this season. He knows it and welcomes it. But he has to show results. And doing so against the Patriots would be a good start.