TAMPA — It's first-and-three preseason games to go before the Bucs truly kick off the regular season under new coach Lovie Smith. However, Friday's exhibition game at Jacksonville will be the first real introduction to competition in the NFL for rookies such as WR Mike Evans and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
For 35-year-old starting QB Josh McCown, entering his 11th NFL season, it's the newness of the first preseason game that never gets old.
"It's a special moment," McCown said. "I love the first preseason game. It is the coolest thing. I was just thinking about it because the young guys just finished up with the two-minute drill there, and you've got four rookies in the huddle at the skills positions, and that's cool for them, man. It's going to be neat for them Friday night. And I always tell them to cherish it because you dream about this when you're growing up.
"You're going to play in an NFL uniform, and you're going to play under the lights. You don't ever know how long it's going to last. It may last one year, three years, five years, you don't know. And so just enjoy it. It will be fun to watch all those guys play but especially our higher picks that we expect to contribute early."
The starters are expected to play about a quarter against the Jaguars, Smith said Wednesday. They will increase their minutes until the third preseason game, when starters will play into the third quarter. The fourth preseason game will be saved for rookies and players on the bubble.
"Did I tell you I was out of football (last year)?'' Smith said. "Butterflies? You do miss it. But every year in my last job (with the Bears), there was excitement every game. That's not going to change how many times you've done it, the first or the 20th year.
"We need to play a game. We really do. We're anxious to play. You can only hit your teammates so hard."
Second-year DT Akeem Spence remembers how nerves got the best of him during the preseason opener last year.
"I was so nervous, man. I didn't want to mess up," Spence said. "I didn't want to jump offsides. I didn't want to mess up. But as I got to playing, running around and making plays, I got more comfortable, and by about Game 3, I felt real good (about) what I was doing."
praise for bortles: The Bucs did a lot of scouting of Jaguars rookie QB Blake Bortles. The star at Central Florida was the third overall pick in the draft, taken four spots ahead of Evans, from Texas A&M. Smith may have drafted Bortles had the QB slipped to the Bucs.
"I think we liked everything about him," Smith said. "Starting off, I think we liked the way he played in his last game against a good Baylor team. He performed well. I watched him quite a bit just being a football fan. He played good ball.
"When you meet him, he's a great guy, was a sponge, hungry to get to the next level. We liked him an awful lot just like Jacksonville did. We think he has a bright future ahead of him, to say the least.''
bowers inside: DL Da'Quan Bowers practiced, a day after the Bucs held him out. He said he was given a day off because he had been performing well.
Bowers played almost exclusively at defensive end in college and with the Bucs but was listed as a backup defensive tackle on the first depth chart. Smith has cautioned against reading too much into those assignments but said Bowers could play defensive end on the first two downs and move inside on passing downs.
"It's just all about being a pro," said Bowers, who is available to play Friday. "You've got to go with the swing of things."
Bowers, who had one sack and seven tackles last year, said Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy has been giving him tips on how to rush at that position.
injuries: CB Alterraun Verner (hamstring), CB Mike Jenkins (hamstring) and DT Jibreel Black did not practice. Verner will not play Friday. WR Tommy Streeter practiced after missing Tuesday's workout due to illness. DE Scott Solomon returned to practice and will play Friday.
Times staff writers Greg Auman and Matt Baker contributed to this report.