TAMPA — Bucs coach Raheem Morris said the battle for the starting strong safety job will be decided soon.
Sean Jones will start alongside three-year starting FS Tanard Jackson on Saturday against Kansas City. Sabby Piscitelli started last week against the Dolphins. After the Chiefs game, coaches are expected to decide between incumbent Piscitelli and newcomer Jones.
"By the third game, hopefully some things sort out," Morris said.
Playing the pair together against Miami enabled coaches to make a comparison. Morris did not offer the results of that comparison Monday, but both players showed promise while making mild mistakes.
"I did like the competition," Morris said. "They both made some solid tackles."
Jones said he placed a lot of emphasis on showing his physical side Saturday. He played free safety after Jackson left following a single defensive series.
"We were running around playing fast," Jones said. "There were a few minute details we need to fix here and there, but for the most part, the coaches wanted to see us run and be physical and hit, and I think that's what we did."
Jones said he has a comfort level at free and strong safety and has become well-versed in the Bucs' system since joining the club as a free agent from the Eagles in March.
Piscitelli said he saw the results of some of his offseason work on taking better angles and being a sure-handed tackler. He expressed hope that coaches would take the pair's preseason body of work into account when deciding on a starter rather than making a snap decision based on his struggles in 2009.
"If it's going to be a competition, you can't evaluate 12 plays or 15 plays or a quarter of whatever," he said. "So, it's one of those things where, if that's what they say it is, there's no quick decisions."
Whoever is named the starter, Morris has said the team will use a trio of safeties in a rotation, taking advantage of the experience at the position and keeping the starters fresh.
STOVALL SETBACK: WR Maurice Stovall's ankle injury will keep him out of the lineup Saturday night, Morris said.
Stovall was injured against the Dolphins and left the game, another disappointing setback for the fifth-year Buc. Stovall has been beset by injuries throughout his career. He is fighting for a starting job and/or increased playing time.
Morris indicated Stovall's absence is not expected to last beyond this week, meaning he might participate in the preseason competition before things are decided.
Morris didn't specify who would start in Stovall's place, but Sammie Stroughter is a reasonable guess. Veteran Reggie Brown is a possibility, too.
NO CHANGE AT LG: Jeremy Zuttah remains the starter at left guard this week, with Keydrick Vincent relieving him once the starting line leaves the game. At that point, Morris said, Zuttah will move to center with the second unit, as he did against the Dolphins.
Morris indicated the job is still up for grabs.
IS PRICE RIGHT?: Rookie DT Brian Price said he is encouraged by the improvement of his hamstring injury. His absence has been one of the story lines of this training camp as coaches are anxious to watch Price play with rookie DT Gerald McCoy. Price missed the Miami game but could play this week.
"I'm still going to meetings and running plays and getting mental reps, so I'm not really behind at all," he said. "I haven't been out here every day, so it felt good to get back out there."
Regarding his disappointment at missing the past week of practice and the preseason opener, Price said, "I love playing the game, so when you're stripped of something you love, it hurts."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.