Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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5 Bucs to Watch Against Denver

The Bucs travel to Denver this weekend for the first time since Lavonte David’s rookie year. It’ll be a homecoming of sorts for outside linebacker Shaq Barrett and will be a test for quarterback Tom Brady.

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1. OLB Shaq Barrett

This is the most obvious one given that Shaquil Barrett spent the first five years of his NFL career in Denver. He also went to Colorado State, so he spent a significant amount of time at the high altitude his teammates will have to adjust to this Sunday. He's bound to be a little extra juiced up as he comes back into a place that signed him as an undrafted free agent as the league's reigning sack king from 2019.

Whether or not that juice show up in the form of sacks for Barrett will depend on how much emphasis the Denver offensive line places on him. You have to think the Broncos will be gameplanning for him, much like every other team the Bucs have faced this year so far. But the more attention that is paid to Barrett, the less attention they can pay to guys like defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, who had 2.0 sacks last week or outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, who has had a sack in each of his last four games dating back to last season. It could create favorable one-on-one matchups for guys that shouldn't have one-on-one matchups. In that case, the production on the stat sheet would be in their columns, but either way Barrett is going to have an impact on this game.

2. QB Tom Brady

While the Bucs haven't played the Broncos at all since 2016 and haven't been to Denver since 2012, Tom Brady has had his fair share of battles with his former AFC foes. He said on Thursday that he and tight end Rob Gronkowski were discussing how crazy the 2015 AFC Championship game was that ultimately sent the Broncos to the Super Bowl on a failed two-point attempt from Brady to Gronkowski.

Brady has actually had his challenges in Denver. He's 4-7 on the road against the Broncos in his career, which Is actually his worst record on the road against any team. But this time, the Broncos are missing perennial Pro Bowler Von Miller, who is likely out for the entire season after suffering an ankle injury in training camp. Brady is also going into Denver this time with a defense that will look to shut down a pretty dilapidated Denver offense after losing starting quarterback Drew Lock and wide receiver Courtland Sutton. That being said, he's not overlooking them and neither is Head Coach Bruce Arians in their quest to get to 2-1 on the season.

3. WR Chris Godwin & WR Mike Evans

These two. This is the first week both of the Bucs' Pro Bowl receivers will have a full week of preparation together. Mike Evans was held out of practice with a hamstring injury the two weeks leading up to the Bucs' season opener and Chris Godwin missed last game with a concussion. He has now cleared the protocol and both players have been practicing in a full capacity this week.

With both of them healthy, it may be time to see more of what this offense is capable of as a whole.

""It definitely helps," Evans said on Thursday of having Godwin on the field with him. "We're a much better team when we have Chris and myself out there. We're two of the best the game has to offer, but that's just my boy. He gets me riled up to play, I get on him [and] we get hyped before the games. We're just brothers out there, really just playing. It's easy to play with a guy that you really like, so me and him enjoy playing with each other and I'm happy to have him back this week."

I think Bucs fans share in that entire sentiment.

4. TE Rob Gronkowski

There's been a lot made of Rob Gronkowski getting back into the swing of things after spending the 2019 season out of football. He's coming back and now learning an entirely new offense, though thankfully he's still with his same quarterback. While he's getting a full grasp on what is expected of him in the receiving game, he's been a great asset for the run game and in pass protection due to his blocking abilities. He's holding up against defensive ends and linebackers like the massive 6-7 guy he is.

Gronk is also familiar with the Broncos, playing all of his career prior to this year with Brady and in the AFC. He understands what it takes to play at altitude and has a general feel for who Denver is as a team. While Brady and the Patriots haven't had the best record when visiting Denver, Brady and Gronk have had some great days against them, too. So, who knows, this may be a flashback of familiarity that will get Gronk into his groove.

5. ILB Lavonte David

I hope you didn't think I was kidding when I said Lavonte David was going on this list every week until people start talking about him more. David, along with fellow inside linebacker Devin White, will have to contain Denver running back Melvin Gordon, who the team might lean on a little bit more with their backup quarterback, Jeff Driskel, as the presumed starter going into Sunday. He's also the only player currently on the roster who was on the team when the Bucs last played in Denver.

David currently has the fifth-most tackles of any player through the first two weeks of the NFL season and he leads all current players in career solo tackles with 735. He also leads the NFL in fumble recoveries since 2012, having added to his total last week, recording 15 in all. Also, David needs just three more tackles to tie Hardy Nickerson for the third-most in franchise history.

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