TAMPA — The Bucs played only two projected starting offensive linemen in Friday’s 27-17 preseason loss to the Steelers: second-year right tackle Luke Goedeke and rookie right guard Cody Mauch.
Goedeke, who struggled at left guard a year ago, allowed two sacks and had a holding penalty that erased the longest running play of the game. Mauch had a false start to end the first series and a holding penalty.
Furthermore, Tampa Bay failed on two chances to get 1 yard and pick up a first down.
The league’s worst rushing team in the NFL a year ago had only 66 yards on the ground and averaged only 2.5 yards per attempt.
The Bucs have made players change positions and changed their offensive coordinator since last season. But their excuse for losing remains the same. The offensive line still is a work in progress, and that’s putting it mildly.
“I thought (Goedeke and Mauch) had a lot of good plays,” coach Todd Bowles said Saturday. “But I thought they got high at times and they got pushed back a little bit when they did get high, so there’s a couple technique things we need to work on.
“That’s why they played a lot, and they’ll play a lot next week (against the Jets on Saturday) to get better at that.”
It’s understandable that nerves would get the better of Mauch, a second-round draft pick from North Dakota State who was making his NFL debut. On the first drive, the Bucs faced fourth and 1 from their 34-yard line when Mauch jumped the snap count, forcing a punt. He later had a holding penalty, one of the Bucs’ 12 flags for 127 yards.
Mauch was asked what grade he would give himself.
“Way too many penalties,” he said. “You know, you can’t have that. So it’s not a very good grade at all. Way too many penalties.”
Overall, Mauch was able to calm his nerves and get past that he was playing in an NFL game.
“It was awesome,” he said. “It was weird having a night game because you’re just kind of waiting around all day. You’re sitting at home and thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve got a game tonight; this is crazy.’
“It was just fun, you know, to put on our jersey, run out of the tunnel with the guys and hear the fans going crazy. I thought it was a lot of fun. It was so surreal for me.”
There is probably less tolerance by the Bucs for the mistakes made by Goedeke. He should be better at right tackle, a position he played at Central Michigan. But he was beaten badly for two sacks, and his holding penalty erased a 20-yard dash by free-agent running back Chase Edmonds. Two plays later, facing third and 19, Kyle Trask threw an interception.
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Moving All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs from right to left tackle was based on the premise that Goedeke could hold up at his old position.
“We had some good runs, and penalties held us back,” Bowles said. “You can’t run the ball if you get holding calls and you get first and 20 all the time, so that has a lot to do with it as well. I thought we were consistent with (the running game).
“Every time we tried to break one, even with Sean Tucker’s touchdown being called back (on a holding penalty against Nick Leverett in the fourth quarter) and another run out there earlier, there were holding calls holding it back. We just have to cut the holding calls out.”
Short yardage was an issue for the Bucs a year ago. On Friday, Ke’Shawn Vaughn was stopped for no gain on third and 1 from the 50. Then on fourth down, Vaughn was dropped for a 3-yard loss. Five plays and 47 yards later, the Steelers were in the end zone.
“The key to getting those is really some kind of variety,” Bowles said. “You try to smash-mouth in preseason, but during the season you’ve got to have some kind of variety. We know everybody is going to try to crash the middle and smoke the middle. We’ve got to have certain plays that are etched in stone, that are our bread and butter that we can be good at and know we can gain 1 yard (on), so we’ll be working on that this week.”
Bowles plans to sit many of his starters again against the Jets at MetLife Stadium. But Goedeke and Mauch will start and play much of the game again. Based on Friday’s game, they need the extra work.
Contact Rick Stroud at email@example.com. Follow @NFLSTROUD.
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