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What to look for during Tampa Bay Buccaneers' preseason opener

The receivers

The Bucs' receiving unit is young but not short on talent. Deciding who plays what role will be an issue for coaches.

Tonight, Dezmon Briscoe, left, gets a valuable opportunity to play with the starting offense with Arrelious Benn still recovering from a torn ACL. Mike Williams, for whom there are high expectations, will start opposite him.

But this game also is key for players such as Sammie Stroughter, who was hobbled by injuries last season, and Micheal Spurlock, who came into his own last season but has to fight off the young guns for playing time. The competition is bringing out the best in them all.

"Everybody in the (unit) is trying to get better," Spurlock said. "Let the chips fall where they may."

Bouncing back from injuries

The Bucs became something of a M*A*S*H unit late last season, when starters were going down as fast as they could be replaced. But the majority of those lost to injury are slated to play tonight.

Safety Cody Grimm, cornerback Aqib Talib, defensive tackle Brian Price and linebacker Quincy Black suffered season-ending injuries. Tonight marks a big step in their road back, when they play in actual games for the first time.

The same applies to rookie defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, whose offseason knee surgery prompted his precipitous fall in the draft.

Receiver Arrelious Benn was lost to a torn ACL, and while he could play, he isn't expected to see action as a precaution. The status of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who went on injured reserve last season and now has a strained rotator cuff, wasn't clear Thursday.

How does Mason Foster perform?

The third-round pick from Washington has been a consistent topic of conversation since camp began, and it became apparent he would assume the starting middle linebacker role from the departed Barrett Ruud. Coach Raheem Morris said this week Foster is having a better training camp than Tyrone McKenzie, who hoped to start.

However, that assessment is based only on a handful of practices. Foster's first game action will be far more revealing and will expose him to game speed, formations and situations.

The Bucs are putting a lot of weight on the back of the rookie, one who has played mostly outside linebacker. Let's see whether he responds to what, essentially, is a challenge by his team to fill Ruud's big shoes.

The offensive backfield

The decision to let Cadillac Williams leave has changed the backfield. While Williams was the starting tailback last preseason, LeGarrette Blount now has that title. The question is more who enters when he leaves. Blount strives to be an everydown back, but it's likely he'll often be replaced by Kregg Lumpkin or Earnest Graham on third down.

Graham is still tethered to the fullback position. Otherwise, he likely would be the option on third down because protecting Josh Freeman is paramount.

Tonight's Bucs preseason opener at Kansas City has been a long time coming after an arduous offseason. But finally comes the first look at a team hoping to build on last season's surprising 10-6 revival. Let's consider some of what Bucs coaches and executives will be watching during tonight's contest.

Clayborn makes his debut

Every team's first-round draft pick will be scrutinized in their debuts, and defensive end Adrian Clayborn is no exception. The No. 20 choice from Iowa will lock horns with Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert, himself a first-round pick in 2008. It will be interesting to see if Clayborn is the physical, punishing defender the Bucs predicted he'd be. And this game should provide a good measurement of that as the Chiefs were the NFL's top rushing team in 2010 and have a stout offensive front. Bucs coach Raheem Morris said he'll let his starters play a bit more than usual for a preseason opener, roughly 20 snaps. That could be a quarter or more of football, plenty of time to give Clayborn a good taste of what's to come.

What to look for during Tampa Bay Buccaneers' preseason opener 08/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 12, 2011 12:14am]
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