Tonight's fourth preseason game presents a final chance both for the evaluation of players and last-ditch efforts by long shots to make the roster. With roster cuts looming on Saturday, what and who will be under the microscope tonight? Let's examine.
The tight end lineup
We know Kellen Winslow has things locked down as the starter, and Luke Stocker is the presumptive No. 2 for use in two tight-end sets.
After that, it's a toss-up. If the Bucs keep just three tight ends, a distinct possibility, this is the final shot for rookie Daniel Hardy, Ryan Purvis and Nathan Overbay to sell themselves to coaches for the last roster spot.
The Bucs' recent history suggests Hardy is well-positioned because he was drafted. The Bucs often opt to keep their draft picks in position battles that are close. The Bucs like Hardy's athleticism, which he has begun to showcase in the past couple of weeks.
But this is no slam dunk, making tonight's game, in which reserves will play extensively, a prime opportunity.
Defensive line decisions
Thirteen of the 80 players currently on the roster are defensive linemen. And here's a news flash: They can't all stick around.
The problem, a good one for the Bucs, is that most have had measurable impact this preseason, making decisions tougher. A guy clearly on the bubble is oft-injured end Kyle Moore, who has been one of the biggest surprises of the preseason. Another end on the bubble is George Johnson, who is tied for the NFL preseason lead with three sacks. It's possible neither player will make the roster.
That's how competitive this unit has been. When roster battles are this close, even a game that seems meaningless could impact decisions.
Kregg Lumpkin's role
Earnest Graham seems the inevitable choice for third-down running back given his skill set and the apparent ability of Erik Lorig to lighten Graham's role at fullback.
But coach Raheem Morris went out of his way to point out that he and his coaches want to see something out of Kregg Lumpkin tonight. After spending the majority of 2010 on the bench, Lumpkin finally has received a legitimate opportunity this preseason.
While his 3.6 yards per carry is the highest this preseason among Bucs running backs, Lumpkin's body of work doesn't measure up to Graham's. However, remember that Graham gained a reputation as Mr. August because of his preseason rushing success, and it proved a precursor to more regular-season opportunities.
Lumpkin can make a statement tonight that might serve him well later, even if Graham gains the upper hand for now.
How many receivers stay?
The Bucs have six receivers who all spent time on the active roster last season. The problem is that most clubs don't keep that many receivers at final cuts.
But the Bucs are willing to go with a "heavy" lineup at a position or two if there is a high concentration of talent. This philosophy might apply at receiver this season, where the Bucs, ideally, would like to keep Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, Dez Briscoe, Micheal Spurlock, Sammie Stroughter and Preston Parker. But someone's bubble could burst.
It appears there isn't much room for guys such as Ed Gant or Maurice Price.
Big night for two rookie DBs
Expect to see a lot of rookie cornerback Anthony Gaitor and, if he can overcome his high ankle sprain, safety Ahmad Black. Both are in fights for roster spots.
Gaitor has shown a great deal of aggressiveness this preseason and has displayed a nose for the football. He recorded a sack on a cornerback blitz against Kansas City. He's the kind of scrappy, long-shot player Morris loves. If he makes the roster, the seventh-round pick from Florida International probably would do so at the expense of veteran Elbert Mack.
Black's situation is complex. The fifth-round pick from Florida has been sidelined for most of the preseason with the ankle injury and only returned to practice this week. Can he do enough tonight to prove he deserves a chance? It will be tough given the more experienced players ahead of him.