The Bucs kick off the 2012 preseason Friday at Sunlife Stadium against the Miami Dolphins, and given the tumultuous 2011 season and major offseason changes, this matchup figures to be ripe with storylines.
1. How much will the Bucs bring extra rushers? Early indications from players and coaches during camp are that the Bucs will be more aggressive in getting up the field in run support and after the quarterback….although no one outside of One Buc Place knows exactly what the Bucs are implementing yet. Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan admitted to the media at the start of training camp that his defense will do more blitzing than they have in the past. And why not? With noteworthy additions of Amobi Okoye and rookie LB Lavonte David, the same front seven returns that generated a league-worst 23 sacks. David, who has shown up in the backfield on several occasions in camp, seems to have the quickness to get to the quarterback. Dekoda Watson found some success as a rusher in the Bucs’ redskin package last season, and could be a candidate as a rush linebacker this year.
2. Speaking of pressure, how will Roy Miller fare as starting nose tackle? With the trade of Brian Price to Chicago, Miller will get the first crack as the team’s starting nose tackle. He said he’s at 308 pounds, the lightest he’s been since he’s been with the team, and that Schiano’s defense is more similar to what the team ran in 2010, when he started 16 games and had 47 tackles. Miller received injections in his back last season, and was in such discomfort that he couldn’t even sit in a chair without experiencing pain. Gary Gibson and Okoye are also expected to get looks at the nose tackle position.
3. The battle for the starting RB position begins in earnest. Although LeGarrette Blount was listed as the starting running back on the first depth chart released this week, Martin has been more impressive in camp thus far. He’s shown a good burst between the tackles, and he has the lateral speed to get to the edge and give the Bucs something they lacked in 2011 – an outside running attack. Yet, he has never played a down against an NFL defense in a game setting, so the real evaluation, and competition, begins Friday.
4. With EJ Biggers still on the mend with a broken bone in his foot, the battle is heating up for the nickel CB position. Anthony Gaitor, a pleasant surprise last year, is getting a strong push this camp from Myron Lewis. Lewis, like Miller, is a third-round pick who is seeking to finally make an impact on the roster. He has battled nagging injuries that led to him being inactive for much of 2011. However, Lewis has had an impressive camp and put on a show for the fans at the Saturday night practice with a good performance against Vincent Jackson
(although Jackson certainly had his moments as well).
5. The Bucs certainly have some fresh faces that fans will be eager to see in Pewter for the first time, ala Jackson and Carl Nicks, but Mark Barron might be the most compelling player to watch. Jackson and Nicks are established Pro Bowl commodities; Barron is playing game one of his career. The Bucs passed on Morris Claiborne and Luke Kuechly in April to bring a physical element to the back end of their defense in Barron. There are few questions about Barron’s ability as a hitter, but just how well can he cover? Right or wrong, expectations will
be high for Barron, both in improving the Bucs porous run defense and in providing a division with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Cam Newton. Let’s see how he fares first against Miami’s QB crop of David Garrard, Matt Moore, and/or Ryan Tannehill. Baby steps indeed.