TAMPA — Three days before the most important game of the preseason, the Bucs held three key players — WR Mike Evans, LB Kwon Alexander and G J.R. Sweezy — from Wednesday's practice as a precaution.
The same might be true in Saturday's home game against the Browns. The Bucs' priority will be making sure everyone is healthy for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener at Miami.
"It's just common sense," coach Dirk Koetter said. "If it's a medical issue at all, we're holding him out. We would always do that, especially in the preseason."
Koetter said Alexander's hamstring "will be fine" and Evans' undisclosed injury is "nothing serious," but those are in addition to RT Demar Dotson (knee) and CB Brent Grimes (shin cut), who are also expected to be held out Saturday.
With Dotson sidelined another week, the Bucs again worked LG Kevin Pamphile at right tackle. That, combined with Sweezy's absence, meant three centers in the starting lineup, with Evan Smith and Joe Hawley working at guard and Ali Marpet at center.
Quite the import
Don't let his modest preseason statistics fool you: Antony Auclair, an undrafted rookie tight end from Canada, is making a strong case to make the Bucs' 53-man roster.
"I'm definitely impressed with both rookies," first-year tight ends coach Ben Steele said. "Auclair and O.J. (Howard) … both have made huge strides with the gap from coming from college, especially (Auclair coming) from Canada. Without a doubt, (Auclair) is one of those guys that just works super hard. He's a natural learner, a football junkie, and that helps with the transition. He still has a lot of room for improvement, as everybody does in camp."
Auclair has only one catch in two preseason games for 9 yards, but he has continued to develop in learning the game. The Bucs' depth is good enough that they might carry five tight ends to open the season, as opposed to four in most of last season.
Koetter was unhappy with the effort in practice.
"Not good" was all he offered, not wanting to cite the grind of the last week of training camp.
"We're definitely at that point, but that's just making excuses," he said. "Our effort, it wasn't good enough. That starts with me. I've got to coach them better. I've got to get them ready to play better."
Thursday is the final practice open to the public — starting at 8:45 a.m. at One Buc Place — and after Saturday's game, the Bucs will treat next week's preseason finale against the Redskins like a regular-season game, easing into their regular game-week routine.
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Contact Greg Auman at email@example.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.