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Healthy centers at premium for Bucs

Buccaneers Jameis Winston (3) calls an offensive play during practice at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp at One Buc Place in Tampa on Monday, August 17, 2015. (OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times)
Buccaneers Jameis Winston (3) calls an offensive play during practice at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp at One Buc Place in Tampa on Monday, August 17, 2015. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)
Published Aug. 22, 2015

TAMPA — The Bucs will again have only two players listed as centers healthy for Monday's preseason home game against the Bengals, but starter Evan Smith said he had not been told if he would be playing more than the 16 snaps he had in last week's preseason opener.

"I'll leave that up to the coaches," Smith said after Thursday's practice. "I'll just go out there and hit people until they tell me to stop."

The Bucs had issues with their second center in their 26-16 loss to the Vikings. Garrett Gilkey, a guard who has played as an emergency center, had two fumbled snaps in his nine plays at center. He has worked as a second-team guard this week, with former USF player Jeremiah Warren — who took the final 47 snaps at center in the preseason opener — working as the second center.

STARTING DEBUTS? Monday's game could be the first preseason start for rookies LT Donovan Smith and RG Ali Marpet, who came off the bench in the opener but have worked with the first-team line at practice this week. Smith said he has worked to develop chemistry with Marpet in practice.

"One thing as a guard is you have to trust your center. As a center, you have to trust your guards," he said. "Right now we are working on that rapport. (Marpet has) been doing a really good job."

In what could be good news for the offensive line, Cincinnati ranked last among the NFL's 32 teams in sacks last season with 20, 16 fewer than the Bucs had. The Bengals' only sacks last week in their preseason opener came in the final four minutes of their 23-10 win against the Giants.

THIS AND THAT: The Bengals will be without former Bucs DE Michael Johnson, who is recovering from a knee injury and hoping to return for the season opener in three weeks. … Cincinnati has former Plant High standout and Florida State RB James Wilder Jr., son of the former Bucs star, competing for a roster spot. He had 14 carries for 53 yards and a touchdown last week. … The Bears and Eagles are the only teams with more takeaways than the Bucs, who had three against the Vikings.

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

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