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Bucs pin offensive hopes on inexperienced line

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston drops as center Jeremiah Warren (60) and guard Logan Mankins, right, block for him.
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston drops as center Jeremiah Warren (60) and guard Logan Mankins, right, block for him.
Published Aug. 25, 2015

TAMPA — Former USF offensive lineman Jeremiah Warren found out he'd start at center for the Bucs when he arrived for Monday's game against the Bengals at Raymond James Stadium.

Starter Evan Smith tweaked a groin muscle in Sunday's walkthrough and was held out to be safe, so with Warren in his place, four of the Bucs' five starting offensive linemen had never played in a regular-season NFL game.

"Coach (Lovie Smith) tells us to always be ready at all times," Warren said. "It's a great confidence booster. Those guys are amazing. Their D-line is incredible, so to go out with Logan (Mankins) and guys like Ali Marpet coming in and fighting, it was incredible."

The Bucs had an 80-yard touchdown drive behind that young line, leading 23-3 at halftime on the way to a 25-11 win.

"I thought the guys played together pretty well," Mankins said. "I know I had a few plays I'd love to do over. We're improving, and that's the main thing. We need to cut down on penalties, but the effort level and the physicality tonight were going in the right direction."

As expected, the team's two rookie second-round draft picks made their first starts, Donovan Smith at left tackle and Marpet at right guard. Reid Fragel started as an injury replacement at right tackle.

The line had five penalties in the first half, but QB Jameis Winston was sacked only once, with backup Mike Glennon getting sacked twice after taking over midway through the second quarter.

INJURIES: Second-year WR Mike Evans has no catches in the first two games, having left early Monday with what was announced as a hamstring injury. The Bucs tried him deep twice in the first nine passes but missed both times. "I felt it stiffen up a little," Evans said. "I though it'd be best to just chill out. I'm going to get it evaluated (Tuesday). We'll see (about playing in Saturday's game)." Nickel DB Leonard Johnson left with a left ankle injury in the third quarter and did not return.

GOING FOR TWO: The Bucs' only points of the second half came on a safety as LB Danny Lansanah tackled RB Cedric Peerman in the end zone for a 25-3 lead.

FLAGS FLYING: The Bucs had just four penalties for 19 yards in their preseason opener, but it was a much different story Monday night with 11 flags for 130 yards in the first half alone. They had 14 for 153 yards in all. The Bucs committed three penalties on one punt return, when the Bengals declined two holds and accepted an illegal-block penalty.

PINNED DEEP: The Bucs' punt coverage unit had a strong first half, first downing a Michael Koenen punt at the 1-yard line, rookie WR Kenny Bell jumping into the end zone to save the ball from a touchback. Later Tampa Bay punted from the Cincinnati 36, and it was downed inside the 5 by CB Isaiah Frey. K Pat Murray missed one extra point, but hit a 53-yard field goal on the next drive. He missed a 50-yard field goal in the third quarter.

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This and that: The Bucs had Bell deep on the opening kickoff, with fellow rookie Kaelin Clay back as the initial punt returner. Clay had a 16-yard return in the first half. … Also not dressed for Monday's game: DE Jacquies Smith (shoulder), DE T.J. Fatinikun (leg), OT Kevin Pamphile (triceps), LB Orie Lemon (undisclosed), S Chris Conte (hamstring), C Josh Allen (ankle), T Demar Dotson (knee) and DT Akeem Spence (back). … DT Henry Melton started as defensive end, where the Bucs are shorthanded. … Bengals RB James Wilder Jr., a former Plant and Florida State star and son of former Bucs great James Wilder, got a touchdown and two-point conversion with 2:45 to play.

Contact Greg Auman at gauman@tampabay.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.