Saturday, February 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Little to like about Bucs preseason

TAMPA — We still have more than 21/2 weeks before the Bucs' regular-season opener Sept. 8.

The middle of the locker room at One Buc Place is lined with temporary lockers to house players who won't even be here when the regular season starts.

We're only halfway through the exhibition season.

And, yes, all we've seen so far are a bunch of practices, scrimmages, drills and games that don't count.

Yet name one thing, just one, that has happened so far this preseason that gives you hope for the upcoming Bucs season.

Name one thing that you can point to and say, "Yep, that right there looks good.'' Name one thing that the Bucs can hang their helmets on.

Just one.

Quarterback Josh Freeman? He has been sacked almost as many times (four) as he has completed passes (six). In four series, he has led the team to only three points and 42 yards through the air.

Running back Doug Martin? Last time we saw him, he was being asked how many fingers the trainer was holding up. And speaking of fingers, you would need only four to add up all of his rushing yards.

The offensive line? Well, it will be fine, you would think, when Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph return from injuries. Speaking of which, shouldn't that have happened by now?

Joseph has been out a year with a knee injury and is just now getting involved in full-team drills. Nicks hasn't played this preseason and, quite frankly, no one knows when he will play again and for how long as he continues to have issues with a bad toe that forced him to miss much of last season.

The Bucs still haven't found a dependable tight end or third receiver.

Okay, let's switch over to defense.

The Bucs brag about how they patched up that dreadful secondary from a season ago, but no one bothered to get that message to the Patriots' Tom Brady and the Ravens' Joe Flacco. Those two quarterbacks combined to go 18-for-21 for 164 yards, against mostly Bucs starters. Exhibition or not, those numbers are scary.

Cornerback Darrelle Revis — you remember, the guy the Bucs gave up a first-round pick for, the guy whom the Bucs are paying $16 million a year, the guy who is supposed to solve all the Bucs' pass-defense problems — still hasn't suited up in a game and no one knows for sure when he will.

When will Revis have an impact? Will Revis have an impact?

The pass rush has been non-existent, and we're still not sure if one of the Bucs' key pass rushers, defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, can play every down.

Here's how bad it is: the Bucs even have issues at kicker, for crying out loud. They might have to take out a want ad because Lawrence Tynes, the kicker brought in to replace the injured Connor Barth, has a toe injury that he can't overcome at the moment.

What's that leave here, the punter? Okay, I'll give you that one. Michael Koenen looks great.

Well, isn't that special?

I know what you're thinking: Why worry? It's the preseason. There are no trophies or parades for pretend games where half the players are about a week away from never playing football again.

Teams are trying different schemes to see what works and what doesn't. They are giving players various responsibilities to see how they react. Injured players are rested and protected. If it were up to some coaches, there wouldn't even be a scoreboard. Practices are just as valuable as preseason games, maybe even more so.

"To clarify for the fans, whoever sees this or hears this,'' Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said, "we use preseason as a grading scale for certain things, not necessarily for a game. It's a brush-up on things and certain stuff.''

Still, don't you want your first-team offense to string together a few first downs? Maybe punch one into the end zone? Don't you want your big guys up front to get a sack-fumble?

Don't you want your team to have some success?

"We've got to do that, and until you do it, you're not worth a dime,'' coach Greg Schiano said. "But I have confidence we're going to do that. I have confidence in our guys.''

There's an old saying in football: the preseason doesn't count, but it does matter.

"I think it matters a lot,'' Joseph said. "Maybe at the end of the day, it doesn't matter on the scoreboard or in the record books, but in your head, you're trying to get a feel for how good of a season you're going to have.''

And that's the point. Right now, there is no feel for what kind of season the Bucs are going to have. There's no buzz. There's nothing to be excited about. There are way more questions than answers.

There's still time to sort that out. But the time has come to start doing some good things.

Because, as of now, the very best thing you can say about the Bucs' preseason is that it hasn't counted.

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