When: 7:30 Friday
Where: Raymond James Stadium
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.