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Bucs vs. Dolphins: What to watch for

After hosting two joint practices with Miami this week, the Bucs play their first preseason game tonight against Miami.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Spencer Schnell (83) battles Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Marcelis Branch (39) during an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

When: 7:30 Friday

Where: Raymond James Stadium


Radio: 97.9-FM

After running the first-team offense and defense against the Dolphins in a pair of joint practices this week, Bucs coach Bruce Arians said his starters might get slightly more playing time in Friday’s preseason game than they did in the opener last week in Pittsburgh.

That would make this game more about rating the reserves and seeing where bubble players stand. Here are five things to watch for Friday.

MORE BUCS: Bucs rookie looks to respond to Bruce Arians’ cutting question

Bucs coach Bruce Arians wants to see his team cut down on penalties and other mental errors in this week's preseason game. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

It’s time to cut down on mental errors

In the 30-28 loss to the Steelers, the Bucs committed 14 penalties for 112 yards, including four that led to Pittsburgh first downs. Some of that can be chalked up to the game being the first of the preseason, but those numbers must improve tonight. Arians (right) wants to see a cleaner game, and the Bucs aren’t good enough now to overcome lots of penalties. Arians said after Wednesday’s practice that players who commit penalties won’t make the team.

MORE BUCS: Was the stage too big for some Bucs rookies in last week’s preseason opener?

Bucs tight end Tanner Hudson has had a strong camp and played well in last week's preseason opener, but given the team's the roster numbers crunch, he must continue to trend upward to seal a roster spot. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]

Time to rise for reserves

The players who stood out the most against the Steelers were undrafted rookie receiver Spencer Schnell and second-year tight end Tanner Hudson, both of whom racked up big catches and big yardage in the second half. Both must continue to trend upward, because in one way, they’re competing with each other. When evaluating both, it might come down to whether the Bucs carry a fourth tight end or an extra receiver. The undersized Schnell (5 feet 8, 178 pounds) is at a disadvantage as a blocker, so he will have to show an ability to contribute on special teams.

MORE BUCS: Arians says it would be easy for him to cut roster to 60 players right now.

The Bucs cut ties with backup center Evan Smith (62) after he played 28 snaps in last week's preseason opener, leaving the backup center position a glaring question mark. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Where’s the depth at center?

The lack of depth on the offensive line has been a concern throughout camp. But with the release of backup Evan Smith, the Bucs will lean on undrafted rookie Nate Trewyn and seven-year veteran Josh LeRibeus behind starter Ryan Jensen. And though Jensen has been healthy, he missed a significant portion of the offseason organized team activities with an injury, so the Bucs are one snap away from needing to play Trewyn or LeRibeus. Veteran Earl Watford can also play center, but his ability to play all five line positions could force him elsewhere given the team’s lack of depth.

MORE BUCS: Bucs tell backup center/guard Evan Smith he will be released

Bucs tackle Beau Allen, left, steps in for Vita Vea to start alongside Ndamukong Suh, but the defensive line depth after that is still very much in the air. [ALLIE GOULDING | Times]

Who will step up on the second-team defensive line?

Depth is also lacking on the interior. Jeremiah Ledbetter became a player to watch before suffering a high ankle sprain this week that will keep him out two weeks. Keep an eye on Rakeem Nunez-Roches, who should play a lot of snaps tonight. After playing just 52 defensive snaps last season, he has the opportunity to play a prominent role.

MORE BUCS: Bucs’ 3-4 defense gives Dolphins’ fits in first joint practice.

In battling rookie Matt Gay for the kicker job, will Cairo Santos get the opportunity that he can make a big kick this week? [MONICA HERNDON | Times]

Matt Gay’s battle to lose?

Arians keeps saying that the kicking competition between rookie fifth-round draft pick Matt Gay and incumbent Cairo Santos is close and it will come down to who performs well in games. Gay received the only field-goal opportunity against the Steelers and hit a 55-yarder. If the Bucs have an opportunity to go for a long attempt tonight, will it be Santos’ turn? Santos was limited to one extra-point attempt last week. If this is truly a competition, there are only so many game kicks to go around.

MORE BUCS: A lot to like in preseason opener, even if it camp against Steelers’ backups.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at Follow @EddieInTheYard.