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Bucs: Things to watch tonight against Washington

With 90 players at his disposal, Dirk Koetter should be able to sit about 40 in the final preseason game. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
With 90 players at his disposal, Dirk Koetter should be able to sit about 40 in the final preseason game. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Published Aug. 31, 2017

By Greg Auman

TAMPA — If you're on the Bucs roster and you're not playing tonight, it's a good sign.

The final NFL preseason game is often 60 minutes of tactfully running out the clock, just to avoid injuries. If you're important to your team, chances are you watch from the sidelines wearing a ballcap, unless there are injuries limiting the depth at your position.

You don't really want to play a lot tonight. Last year, Bucs tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins played 56 snaps in this game — which seemed punitive — and didn't play well (two catches on seven targets for 22 yards). "We thought he needed to play more," coach Dirk Koetter said, not wanting to elaborate.

Koetter sat 25 players last year when he had a 75-player roster, so he should be able to sit about 40 tonight with 90 at his disposal. For the 50 or so who do suit up and play, even if they're among the 37 players who will be cut in the following 48 hours, it's a chance to put good football on tape for the rest of the league to see.

1. WIDE RECEIVER: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries will have the night off —- potentially rookie Chris Godwin as well. So nearly every pass is a chance to shift the too-close-to-call battle for the Bucs' No. 5 receiver.

Can late-charging Donteea Dye, who missed the first two games with an ankle injury, make a splash play? Can Bernard Reedy continue a perfect preseason (six catches on six targets, plus a 22-yard punt return and 29-yard kickoff return)? Can Freddie Martino finish strong, as he did last year with six catches for 65 yards in this game? Is Josh Huff healthy enough to play and make his case to stick around?

2. RUNNING BACK: Perhaps the Bucs player with the most on the line is rookie Jeremy McNichols, the fifth-round pick from Boise State who has struggled. Pulled after two plays Saturday after he forgot to pick up a blitzing linebacker, McNichols is in Koetter's doghouse so much that this game, the coach said, is his "one final chance to show what he can do."

The Bucs have cut five draft picks before the season in GM Jason Licht's three years, so there's precedent. Peyton Barber, the likely starter, rushed 16 times for 44 yards in this game last year and is working to solidify his long-term place on the roster, since Doug Martin is expected to join the group in Week 4.

3. DEFENSIVE END: You won't see Will Gholston or Robert Ayers and might not see Noah Spence. Ryan Russell seems like a safe bet as the fourth end, but with DaVonte Lambert and Jacquies Smith sidelined with injuries, there's an unexpected opening.

Who can grab it, out of George Johnson and newcomers Tavaris Barnes and Sterling Bailey and Tavaris Barnes? Barnes and Bailey — hello, circus fans — each have a sack this preseason, and another could help them make the 53-man roster. If there isn't an obvious answer, the Bucs could try to add a player cut elsewhere this weekend.

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4. LINEBACKER: Hard Knocks has played up the battle between special-teams regular Cameron Lynch and undrafted rookie Riley Bullough, though it sure looked like Bullough's fate was sealed with plays he couldn't make on the final drive in Saturday's loss to the Browns.

Expect to see a lot of Adarius Glanton, who seems to have locked up the fourth linebacker spot on the roster and should be the primary middle linebacker. Will promising rookie Kendell Beckwith play some to get him more prepared for the opener?

5. TIGHT END: Are the Bucs trying to hide undrafted rookie Antony Auclair? He's believed to have a spot on the 53-man roster, but he's had only one target in preseason, a 9-yard catch. It feels like Tampa Bay wants him under the radar in case an injury elsewhere forces them to include him among their final cuts, hoping to bring him back as soon as possible.

If he's on the roster, you have Alan Cross and Austin Johnson competing for the fifth tight end spot — Cross has six catches for 58 yards in preseason, while Johnson has only two for 15. As with all positions tonight, keep an eye on when players play — the earlier in the game, the better his chances of being on roster after final cuts.

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

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