TAMPA — The Bucs have settled at least one important position battle. No, not that one.
Chase McLaughlin has won the job as the team’s placekicker.
The Bucs waived former Georgia star Rodrigo Blankenship after he went 1-of-3 on field-goal attempts during Saturday’s 13-6 preseason win over the Jets. Blankenship missed tries from 32 and 55 yards while connecting on a 35-yard attempt in the second quarter.
McLaughlin made all of his kicks this preseason, including three extra-point tries and Saturday’s 48-yard field goal.
Ironically, it’s not the first time these two have battled for the same job. Blankenship won a training camp battle for the Colts’ starting job in 2020. But after only one game in 2022, McLaughlin replaced Blankenship.
McLaughlin will replace Ryan Succop, who was released in March. Tampa Bay wanted someone with more range, and McLaughlin certainly has that. He connected on 9 of 12 field-goal tries from 50 yards or more for the Colts last season and is 17 of 21 from that distance in his career.
The Bucs have a kicker, but several other positions will be on the line in the final preseason game Saturday against the Ravens
No. 2 running back
Sean Tucker was a highly productive running back at Syracuse who rushed for more than 2,500 yards over his final two seasons. But a heart condition prevented him from working out for NFL scouts and left him undrafted.
Tucker was cleared for training camp and has made up for lost time. He’s looked explosive, rushing seven times for 37 yards in Saturday’s game. He had three receptions for 18 yards.
“It felt good,” Tucker said. “I did a couple things just to help the team get on the board and tried to set up that one score that (receiver) Trey (Palmer) had in the end zone. I’ve got a couple things I need to work on to get better for next week.”
That was a marked improvement from the first preseason game against the Steelers, when Tucker was held to 10 yards on six rushing attempts and had one catch for 3 yards. Unfortunately, an apparent 12-yard touchdown run was erased by a holding penalty.
Ke-Shawn Vaughn has not produced in the preseason. He had 4 yards on seven rushing attempts in the first preseason game and rushed four times for minus-8 yards against the Jets.
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Rachaad White, who has not played in the preseason, is the Bucs’ starting running back. Veteran Chase Edmonds has locked down the third-down role.
The Bucs’ decision to move Antoine Winfield Jr. back to free safety, rather than have him split time again as the nickel cornerback, was a good one. It will keep him healthier while giving the team a centerfielder to make more plays on the ball.
Dee Delaney had a huge game Saturday against the Jets. He led the team with five solo tackles and had two assists. But it was the shoe-top interception in the Bucs’ end zone that prevented the Jets from scoring a touchdown. Another potential pick was erased by penalty.
“He just finds the ball,” coach Todd Bowles said. “Dee has been with us for awhile. He’s a heady player. He gives us flexibility because of his versatility. He plays corner, both safety spots and nickel, and that really helps us out. He works out every day, and he’s a heady ballplayer.”
Christian Izien, a rookie from Rutgers, has impressed the Bucs with his physical style of play and how quickly he has picked up the scheme. He has taken a slight lead over rookie Josh Hayes, who also is in the mix for the job.
Ryan Jensen still has not practiced in a team setting after tearing three knee ligaments more than a year ago. He opted not to have surgery, instead getting treatment with stem cells from the umbilical cords of cesarean babies in Antigua. The Bucs left him home when they traveled to New Jersey.
Until Jensen can play real football, the Bucs are proceeding as if either Robert Hainsey or Nick Leverett will be their starting center.
Hainsey has the edge, having started all 17 regular-season games in 2022. But Leverett has done well in the new zone-blocking scheme under offensive coordinator Dave Canales. Unfortunately, Saturday’s win against the Jets wasn’t a good one for the Bucs’ offense.
The running game got off to a terrible start, with five rushing attempts that lost yards in the first half.
“Initially, I thought (it was) the penetration up the middle early,” Bowles said. “I’ll see where it was at once we watch the tape.”
Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Deven Thompkins and rookie Trey Palmer are locks. In fact, Palmer may be WR3 with a TD catch in each preseason game. But Rakim Jarrett led the Bucs with three catches for 84 yards, including a 36-yarder, against the Jets. David Moore, in his fifth season, has the most NFL experience and knows the system. Kaylon Geiger has dropped too many passes, but Taye Barber had a 26-yard catch last week.
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