The preseason can be hard to watch, what with all the unusual lineup combinations and the numerous reserve players doing the heavy lifting. So, consider this your guide for what you should focus on in tonight's preseason opener.
THE McCOWN SHOWDOWN
Quarterback Luke McCown might be more excited about this game than anyone else, given he will start against his older brother — Dolphins QB Josh McCown, 29. Luke, 27, is going to get plenty of time to convince coach Jon Gruden that he deserves to be the first quarterback off the bench (Jeff Garcia won't make this trip because of his calf injury). Look for McCown to play nearly the entire first half before giving way to Brian Griese. Gruden said Griese should play through most of the third quarter. The two might switch places next week against the Patriots, with Griese likely to get more time. As for the rest of the quarterback lineup, Chris Simms should get his first extensive playing time in two years. Rookie Josh Johnson isn't likely to get in tonight's game but could play next week. RECEIVERS CATCHING ON?
The Bucs have no shortage of receivers with 11, but is there any strength in their numbers? That's the key here. Joey Galloway (groin) will sit this one out as he hasn't practiced yet in camp. But it's time for some other individuals within this big group to get some separation from the pack. Michael Clayton will certainly get the chance. Ditto for Maurice Stovall. Ike Hilliard pretty much is what he is (reliable, if not flashy). Maybe tonight's the night we start to learn a little about newcomer Antonio Bryant and maybe how far kick returner Micheal Spurlock, right, has come as a position player. ROOKIE ROLL CALL
The rookie class is going to be under the microscope. Though they have performed well in practice, coaches will be curious to see how they respond in front of an NFL crowd and at the furious speed of the pro game. Cornerback Aqib Talib, the first-round pick, has made one eye-popping play after another in camp, but will it translate to game day? We'll get a look at second-rounder Dexter Jackson, who will probably return punts and might get a few plays at receiver. Offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah will get plenty of playing time at center and guard. And fourth-rounder Dre Moore, a defensive tackle, could benefit from a standout performance, something he hasn't often displayed in practices. CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?
Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud doesn't figure to play too long, considering he is entrenched as the starter, but when he is on the field, he will be using the new defensive helmet communication system for the first time in live action. Ruud said earlier this week he had begun using the gadget in certain segments of practice, but that's without the restriction of the play clock. Tonight, the system will shut down when 17 seconds remain on the play clock. This game will give the players and coaches who use the system a chance to work out the kinks, if any. Ruud, for one, is a fan of the system. It cuts down on the use of signals (you never know when those Patriots are watching) and limits the number of times he must refer to those annoying armbands used to decipher signals.
Stephen F. Holder, Times staff writer