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Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New England Patriots: Five things to watch for

Quarterback Josh Freeman is looking to improve upon last week’s performance, in which he completed 9-of-13 for 73 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Quarterback Josh Freeman is looking to improve upon last week’s performance, in which he completed 9-of-13 for 73 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions.

TAMPA

Tonight, the Bucs turn their attention to their second preseason game, a matchup against the Patriots. In last week's 25-0 win over the Chiefs, we learned, among other things, that rookie DE Adrian Clayborn will be just fine and WR Dezmon Briscoe might be a big-time player. What do the Bucs hope to see tonight?

DT Gerald McCoy's first action

Gerald McCoy, the third overall pick in last year's draft, hasn't suited up for a game since Dec. 12, when he tore a biceps and was placed on injured reserve. The rehabilitation hampered his offseason work, to an extent. Then in the first week of camp, McCoy suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the preseason opener.

So McCoy's debut tonight has been kind of a long time in the making. He has been solid during training camp, but coaches always prefer to see players in live action.

This also will be McCoy's first action with rookie Adrian Clayborn at right end.

Will Freeman be sharper?

No one on the Bucs coaching staff is losing sleep worrying about how QB Josh Freeman will play this season. But that doesn't mean Freeman can't improve. Freeman was a bit erratic on some of his throws at Kansas City last week; "A couple of those first throws were a little bit off," he said. It wasn't anything to obsess over, but offensive coordinator Greg Olson has said he believed quarterbacks would be most affected by the layoff created by the lockout. Although Freeman threw often with teammates, he didn't do so in a full-squad setting. Freeman has forced a few throws in camp, but he has high personal expectations and demands a great deal from himself. With that, expect him to be sharper.

Can they keep up the strong pass rush?

The Bucs collected six sacks against Chiefs quarterbacks last week, but they'll likely get a better test tonight. The Patriots have a more formidable offensive line and a guy named Tom Brady at quarterback. (There's a chance Brady plays tonight after sitting out last week).

The return of Gerald McCoy from injury can't hurt. He joins a front seven that was relentless with its pressure in the preseason opener. The Bucs also have been showing an assortment of blitzes in practice, though coaches often don't like to show much in the way of specifics during the preseason.

The Bucs would be encouraged to see rookie end Da'Quan Bowers make more of an impact than he produced last week. But his surgically repaired right knee feels good, so it's a start.

Also look for 350-pound DT Frank Okam to get significant playing time, with Brian Price and Roy Miller expected to sit out with injuries.

Mason Foster in the nickel

On Mason Foster's first defensive series as a pro, the rookie middle linebacker played first down, then immediately left the game as the Bucs switched to a nickel package on second and long.

Coach Raheem Morris is leaving Foster out of the lineup in nickel packages (which replace a linebacker with an extra defensive back) to simplify things for him. But the coach said he plans to play Foster in some nickel situations tonight for some on-the-job training.

If so, we should get a look at the rookie's pass coverage ability and decision-making in more complex passing situations.

Erik Lorig enters at fullback

It's not a position most people follow during a game, but if you get the chance, watch Erik Lorig, who will get a great deal of the snaps at fullback tonight.

The Bucs like what backup RB Kregg Lumpkin did last week, but they'd prefer to also involve veteran Earnest Graham at tailback. That, however, will require Lorig to prove he's capable of taking on the majority of the fullback duties usually handled by Graham.

Lorig missed the preseason opener with an Achilles' tendon injury.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New England Patriots: Five things to watch for 08/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 18, 2011 12:20am]

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