The day circled on the calendar has arrived. Week One of the 2022 NFL Season is officially underway. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take center stage on Sunday night during the Prime-Time slot at AT&T Stadium as they take on the Dallas Cowboys. Each storied franchise will aim to begin the quest for a title with a tally in the win column. With Tom Brady back at the helm, surrounded by a talented cast, the team enters a new campaign with one sole focus: unfinished business.
The season opener will certainly not be a tell-all indication of how successful or not successful a team will be throughout the duration of the year, but it would help the Buccaneers build momentum moving forward. There are many intriguing matchups and individual performances that could weigh heavily on the final score. Here is a closer look at five Buccaneers to keep an eye on under the spotlights in Texas.
Luke Goedeke, the Buccaneers second-round pick, has been named the replacement for retired Ali Marpet at left guard. Goedeke played exclusively at right tackle for Central Michigan in their zone-heavy run scheme, but he is a natural fit for the interior with his play strength, toughness and ability to anchor against power. With a remade interior line in Tampa Bay featuring Goedeke, second-year pro Robert Hainsey and experienced veteran Shaq Mason, Cowboys' Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn will likely attack with blitzes through the A and B-gaps featuring Micah Parsons. Goedeke will have his hands full protecting Tom Brady in his debut. He will be tasked often with going up against Cowboys' three-technique tackle, Osa Odighizuwa. With an effective swipe move and burst off the snap to penetrate the pocket, Odighizuwa will be a solid test for the young, talented first-year player in Tampa Bay. Goedeke's film study and mental approach to the game have already impressed the coaching staff and Sunday, that work will be put to the test.
Buccaneers outside linebacker Joe-Tryon Shoyinka is stepping into a full-time role on the right edge of the club's defensive front. Last season, in order to maximize playing time on the field as a rookie, Tryon-Shoyinka served in a variety of roles: rushed from the three-technique, the five-technique and dropped into coverage. Throughout camp, Tryon-Shoyinka consistently showcased his ability to win with leverage inside, forcing opponents to overset to the outside. He has tremendous bend for his length (6'5) and an explosive first step. Cowboys' rookie, Tyler Smith, will receive a heavy dose of Tryon-Shoyinka on Sunday. Dallas drafted Smith 24th overall to become the future successor for left tackle Tyron Smith. Well, the future happened earlier than expected, causing a wrench in the plans. Tyler Smith was battling Connor McGovern for the left guard vacancy left by Connor Williams, but Tyron Smith suffered a torn hamstring that will keep him out for the foreseeable future. Smith, the young one, will now assume the role of Dak Prescott's blindside protector. No. 9 will be one to watch on Sunday night as Todd Bowles dials up creative packages.
The Buccaneers signed Akiem Hicks in June to fortify the line, comprising a menacing front alongside Vita Vea. The hope is for the tandem to eat up blocks on the interior to free up both linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David to either burst through gaps to stop rushers dead in their tracks or to pursue the quarterback. The 6-3, 335-pound Hicks adds notable size to the line, and is a disruptive force in the backfield. The Bucs' aggressive-styled defense is predicated on stopping the run, forcing teams to become one-dimensional. With the Cowboys' depleted receiving corps. and inexperienced offensive line, a balanced attack is their recipe for success. If Hicks and co. dominate at the point of attack, they will be able to dismantle on Sunday. Bowles will get creative to create favorable one-on-one pass rush situations and the battle in the trenches will be key. Hicks will be one to observe in Dallas as he dons a Bucs' jersey.
With both Chris Godwin (knee) and Russell Gage Jr. (hamstring) listed as questionable in Friday's injury report, Julio Jones has the opportunity to become an offensive catalyst. After giving the Bucs' defense fits for many years while compiling an illustrious tenure with the Falcons, the seven-time Pro Bowler now has a chance to give back to his former NFC South rival on Sunday. With Rob Gronkowski's retirement, the Bucs will have to replace his contributions in the passing game and Jones can become an integral asset, lessening the blow. Jones spent a portion of the 2021 season on injured reserve and was released by the Titans with a Post-June 1 designation. He confirmed this past week there are no lingering injury concerns, reaffirming Jones is ready to join a Brady-led aerial onslaught. If a healthy Jones can recapture the peak form that made him a nightmare for the Bucs, he can become a significant contributor. In his prime, Jones encompassed all the coveted traits in an ideal receiver: speed, large catch radius, physicality, body control and leaping ability. He showcased his vast skillset throughout the offseason and has gained chemistry with the 45-year-old man under center, Tom Brady.
Antoine Winfield Jr.
Antoine Winfield Jr., the Bucs' new Swiss Army Knife in the secondary, could potentially be an X-Factor for Tampa Bay in the Week One matchup. Over the past two seasons, Winfield Jr. predominately played the free safety position for Tampa Bay to optimize his awareness – eyeing the quarterback. In 2022, Winfield has cross-trained at nickel corner and safety to showcase his multi-faceted skills: covering slot receivers, blitzing, and setting the edge against the run; That kind of versatility torments quarterbacks pre-snap. Winfield has consistently shown big-play potential on the back end throughout camp, drawing praise from the coaching staff and fellow teammates. Whether lined up in the post or in the box, Winfield will be ready to wreak havoc on Kellen Moore's game plan. An interception, pass breakup, or a key tackle can stall drives and Winfield's instinctive play could spark a defensive surge inside AT&T Stadium.