TAMPA — The most significant snaps taken by the Bucs and Dolphins this week won’t occur Saturday on the Raymond James Stadium turf, but Wednesday and Thursday on its eastern flank.
A few hundred yards away, on the AdventHealth Training Center practice fields, Tom Brady will take his only reps of the week against his former AFC East rival. So will the Bucs’ projected starting offensive line, as well as some other select veterans. Similarly, some of Miami’s most prominent names will line up against the Bucs during the week, but won’t suit up Saturday.
The teams’ joint practice sessions — and more specifically, the controlled scrimmages therein — represent the most telling, tense and perhaps testy stretch of Tampa Bay’s inaugural game week of 2022. Not that Saturday is irrelevant; dozens of players vying for a roster spot need to put positive plays on film.
“It’ll be good to see the practices,” coach Todd Bowles said, “but it will great to see the preseason games, and who can play under the lights.”
With that in mind, and considering some of the characters involved over the next couple of days, we’ve got five significant story lines we’ll be following as the Bucs and Dolphins first-teamers prepare to face off before a limited audience (a few hundred season-pass members).
Tom, Tua and tampering
As sure as Tampa’s morning gridlock, the topic of Brady’s covert communication with Dolphins executives about joining the franchise (resulting in sanctions against the Miami brass for tampering) will arise these next two days. We don’t expect Brady to address reporters at all, while others are sure to dismiss and deflect the questions that inevitably will arise.
But the reality that the Canton-bound quarterback tried to finagle his way out of Tampa for an opportunity with another upwardly-trending team will hang over these sessions like August humidity. Meantime, it should be fun watching Brady trade spirals with 24-year-old Dolphins counterpart Tua Tagovailoa.
Peace sign, Part III?
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If fate has any flair for the dramatic, it will provide us with at least one pass-route matchup pitting new Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill against Bucs third-year safety Antoine Winfield Jr. The pair’s brief history of bravado started in the Bucs-Chiefs 2020 regular-season matchup, when Hill flashed the peace sign at Winfield after his 75-yard touchdown catch (one of three by Hill on the day), and continued at Super Bowl 55, when Winfield reciprocated with the gesture after breaking up a pass intended for Hill in the waning minutes of the Bucs’ 31-9 romp. Winfield was flagged for taunting, and later fined.
A Hill to conquer?
If a Hill-Winfield matchup doesn’t materialize, a showdown between the Dolphins’ prized offseason acquisition against Carlton Davis is sure to surface. The Bucs’ premier cover corner had his robust confidence fractured in that 2020 regular-season meeting, when he inexplicably was left in single coverage against Hill, who finished with 269 yards.
Hill had only seven catches for 73 yards in the teams’ Super Bowl rematch, but the Bucs’ relentless pressure of Patrick Mahomes may have kept him more in check than the actual coverage. Davis’ pride — and press-coverage chops — will be on the line during this two-day test.
How will Hainsey fare?
The Bucs have said they’ll first take a hard look at their in-house candidates before considering the free-agent market (such as JC Tretter) in search of a replacement for injured center Ryan Jensen. That assessment begins in earnest this week, when second-year center Robert Hainsey faces a formidable Dolphins front. The interior tandem of Christian Wilkins (4.5 sacks, 13 quarterback hits in 2021) and Zach Sieler (62 tackles, two sacks) could pose an especially daunting test.
Left guard logjam
Hainsey will hardly be the only Bucs newbie with his hands full. No fewer than four players (Aaron Stinnie, Brandon Walton, Nick Leverett and rookie Luke Goedeke) are vying for the starting spot vacated by Ali Marpet’s retirement. They’ll face a four-man Dolphins front that tied Tampa Bay for fourth in the league in forced fumbles (12), and added three-time Pro Bowler Melvin Ingram.
“Real active group,” new Miami left Terron Armstead, a three-time Pro Bowler with the Saints, told reporters recently. “Highly talented. A lot of skill. Adding Melvin Ingram to that group is, I think, extremely underrated.”
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls
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