Amidst a bit of a health scare involving two players stricken with MRSA, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will head to Miami to face the Dolphins on Saturday in the third game of the preseason, a game widely-regarded as the most important of all preseason games.
It’s when starters will see the most action and both teams will implement a ‘dry-run’ with some actual game-planning. In the case of Josh Freeman, it’s an opportunity to reassert himself, at least in the public’s eyes, as the leader of the offense and appease those calling for more playing time.
In two preseason games, he’s played a total of four offensive series with 21 plays, completing 6 of 10 passing attempts with zero touchdowns and zero interceptions. This time he’ll stick around longer, although head coach Greg Schiano wouldn’t provide an exact snap count for his fifth-year, franchise quarterback.
Getting off to a fast start and sustaining drives are both goals, along with correcting execution errors from last week. The Bucs struggled with protections and surrendered three sacks — all drive-killers.
“Any time you have negative football plays – you don’t convert on third down – it’s frustrating,” said Freeman on the team’s performance against New England. “You go out there with a goal in mind, and you want to see it through; but it’s the preseason, and it may not count, but it does – it still matters.”
“Getting over to the sideline, everybody was a bit frustrated, because we were not wanting to go out in that situation; we wanted to sustain something, get a drive going.”
That includes pushing the tempo this week and making it a physical game, whether it’s running behind Doug Martin, whose game status is up in the air after sustaining a head injury against the Patriots, rookie Mike James, or Peyton Hillis.
James had an 81-yard rushing performance last week with 15 carries, and currently leads the team in rushing this preseason with 96 yards. Peyton Hillis was also impressive last week, with 73 rushing yards.
It also means finding the end zone, something the first team offense has yet to do this preseason, although the unit did manage three against the Ravens.
“The Dolphins last year were tremendous in the red zone defensively, so any time we get in the red zone, we’re wanting to come away with seven (points) instead of three,” said Freeman.
On defense, the Bucs hope to see improvements in pass rush. Through the first two games, the defensive line has yet to register a single sack with the lone takedown coming from WILL linebacker Lavonte David.
Adrian Clayborn hopes to build on his outing against the Patriots, his first game of the preseason, while defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and rookie nose tackle Akeem Spence hope to improve their on-field chemistry.
Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers will likely continue his heavy-workload in his efforts to become an every-down defensive end, and he’ll have his chance against a Dolphins’ offensive line that has undergone a fair amount of shuffling due to injuries this preseason.
Dekoda Watson and Jonathan Casillas will continue to battle it out for the strong side linebacker role and have each taken turns with the ones. A big performance against Miami could solidify a starting job for one of them.
“It’s a great competition,” Schiano said of the two. “They’re driving each other, and if we play two of them, that’s fine with me, too, because they’re both key special teams contributors.”
“Jonathan does a little more in our sub-package, too. I think there’s going to be plenty of plays to go around for those guys, but they’re two key guys in our entire picture there.”
The defense could also yield a big name that has yet to play this preseason — Darrelle Revis, although given Schiano’s recent comments about his Pro Bowl cornerback, it doesn’t appear likely, even after four continuous days of practice.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been eliminated, but again, I’ll just say I don’t need to see it,” said Schiano on the possibility of Revis playing.
As of Thursday afternoon, Schiano had not made a decision on starting right guard Davin Joseph either, although he too had a promising week of practices that included more action.
Kicker Rian Lindell, who signed to the team this week to take the load off of the lone healthy kicker, Derek Dimke, is also a possibility.
“I’m ready to kick if they need me,” said Lindell. “If they don’t want me to, then that’s their decision, but yeah, I’m ready to kick on Saturday.”