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Five things to watch for in tonight's Bucs-Bengals game

 
Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive lineman Ali Marpet (74), center, joins his team on the field during the Bucs training camp on Wednesday (8/19/15) in Tampa.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive lineman Ali Marpet (74), center, joins his team on the field during the Bucs training camp on Wednesday (8/19/15) in Tampa.
Published Aug. 24, 2015

The Bucs have their first home game of 2015 tonight with a prime-time preseason game against the Bengals at Raymond James Stadium.

It's a big national platform for rookie quarterback Jameis Winston and the team's other star players, but it's also a key opportunity for players on the bubble to make a splash.

Here are five things to watch for, even in the second half, when familiar names are harder to find and players are battling for spots on the final 53-man roster:

1. See the first-team offensive line together

The Bucs' first-team line barely worked together in the preseason opener — guard Logan Mankins was gone after just five plays, and center Evan Smith was done after just 16 — and neither took snaps with the team's two potential rookie starters, left tackle Donovan Smith and right guard Ali Marpet (pictured). Both of those rookies could start tonight after working with the first unit all week. The first change during the game might at right tackle, plugging in future starter Gosder Cherilus — who joined the team this week — for Monday's starter, Reid Fragel, who is more likely to be competing for a backup job.

2. Let Winston hit his best targets

The Bucs had eight passes attempted against Minnesota to their top three targets — receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson (pictured) and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins — but completed just one, a 40-yard gain from Jameis Winston to Jackson. Building a rhythm on the field between Winston and his best downfield options is important in the preseason — they've shown chemistry in practice, but it's a bigger step to get on the same page in a game. What better way to get a home crowd excited about the season than a Winston touchdown pass?

3. Which backup defensive end can step up?

The Bucs are likely going without defensive ends Jacquies Smith and T.J. Fatinikun, held out of practice all week with injuries. That means beyond starter George Johnson, all the ends playing against Cincinnati are truly fighting for roster spots. You'll see some defensive tackles working at end — Henry Melton and Will Gholston should help out — but more often, you'll see four players rotating in: veterans Lawrence Sidbury (who had a fumble recovery and a forced fumble in separate plays in the opener) and Larry English (pictured), as well as undrafted rookies Ryan Delaire and Jamal Young. No defensive end had more than one tackle against the Vikings — Melton had the team's only sack — so there's an urgency to see someone make plays as part of the outside pass rush.

4. Meet Speedy Hall

Rannell "Speedy" Hall, the talented undrafted rookie from UCF, has turned heads in training camp but missed the preseason opener with a hamstring injury. He practiced all week and gets his first chance in a game to make a case for a roster spot when final cuts are made. Hall could show up a little bit of everywhere — on returns, where he'll challenge draft pick Kaelin Clay — as a receiver, and even on the occasional end-around.

5. Where's the cornerback depth?

The Bucs have moved Sterling Moore to nickel, so there's very little depth at corner behind starters Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks. Veteran Mike Jenkins (pictured) can lock down a backup job if he plays well, and the rest are mostly inexperienced: Brandon Dixon and Isaiah Frey, who joined the team last year, as well as two undrafted rookies trying to make fans — and announcers — learn their names: Jude Adjei-Barimah and Al-Hajj Shabazz. After giving up 284 passing yards to the Vikings in the opener, the Bucs need those backup cornerbacks to step up to avoid the Bengals doing the same in the second half of this game.