Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones: Time for Bucs to show fans something

TAMPA — Bucs coach Dirk Koetter has one priority for tonight's preseason game against the Browns.

Score a bunch of touchdowns? Pitch a shutout? See Roberto Aguayo make an extra point?

Nope.

"More than anything, I want to come out of it healthy,'' Koetter said.

That's understandable. Already this preseason, the Bucs have seen stars Doug Martin, Gerald McCoy and Ali Marpet nicked up enough to put a good scare into any coach.

Koetter would be fine with zeroes on the scoreboard if it also meant zero stretchers on the field.

"We've got to worry about having the best 46 guys we can out there on Sept. 11 (for the regular-season opener against the Falcons),'' Koetter said. "That's the No. 1 thing.''

But not the only thing.

The Bucs need to show us something.

It's only the preseason, but don't think for a second that tonight's game has no other meaning besides escaping injury.

This game matters.

This is the third preseason game. The dress rehearsal. The one preseason game that matters more than any other.

This is the game when the starters will see the most action. This is the game that most of the starters will play for last time before the regular-season opener.

And for the Bucs, it's about time they look like they are ready for real football. So far, they haven't looked that way.

Especially the offense. Especially quarterback Jameis Winston.

Let's face it, Winston has looked pretty ordinary this preseason.

"I'm supposed to be the leader of this team,'' Winston said, "so I've got to start fast. It starts with me."

Nothing has started fast this preseason for the second-year quarterback.

In the preseason opener against the Eagles, Winston suffered a sack-fumble on his first drive. Last week against Jacksonville, Winston's first pass badly missed wide open Vincent Jackson. That was followed by four more incompletions and an interception.

His 2016 preseason numbers: 10-for-19 for 125 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and one fumble. The Jacksonville game was particularly ugly: only three completions in 10 attempts and a QB rating of 33.3.

Even in practice Winston hasn't looked all that sharp.

"It isn't a secret formula,'' Winston said. "You've got to just execute in everything — mentally, physically, every aspect of the game. … So you've got to get better at every aspect of the game. Building on your positives, eliminating the negatives."

There have been lot of negatives. Just a few positives.

Winston did get into a rhythm after the turnover in Philadelphia, and he did come back to throw a touchdown pass after the awful start in Jacksonville.

But he needs to get way better before the regular season starts. That starts with tonight.

"Our last of these preseason games have been teasers,'' Winston said. "Now you just have to have the mentality like, 'Hey, man, we are (going) to ask you to play a whole game.' You've got to go into any game saying like, 'Man, I'm preparing like this is a real game.' ''

What does a real game look like?

"You just want as crisp of execution as you can get,'' Koetter said.

Crisp. That's the perfect word to describe what you want your offense to look like. And the Bucs have been anything but crisp in the preseason.

Admittedly, the preseason often is tough to gauge.

Teams don't game plan for their opponents. The starters for one team might not be going up against the starters of another. Both teams usually are just implementing their basic offense and defense with few wrinkles or regular-season tricks.

However, the best guess is the Bucs' first-team players have been outscored this preseason by their opponents' first-teamers 28-13. Clearly, the Bucs' top units have been outplayed.

Overall, to use Koetter's word, the Bucs just haven't looked crisp.

Granted, that isn't always easy in the preseason when you are shuffling players on and off the field. And it won't be easy tonight with Marpet and perhaps Martin out of the offensive lineup nursing their injuries.

But the Bucs do want to see a more polished Winston.

And what does Winston hope to see?

"Accomplishing all of our goals, like starting off fast,'' Winston said. "Just finishing. This is really the last preseason game where you really simulate a real game, so it's going to have that type of teasing feeling. We've just got to go out there and play and perform."

Perform and perform well. If they did, it would be the first time all preseason. That's what the Bucs really need to accomplish tonight.

Staying healthy would be a good thing, too.

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