In what was rightly considered the most positive development from Week One to Week Two of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' preseason, the offensive line put forth a much more solid effort against Miami than it had the previous game in Jacksonville. Still, it's worth noting that the Buccaneers surrendered three sacks, averaged 3.3 yards per rush and managed 249 yards of offense in Jacksonville, followed by the Dolphins game in which they surrendered five sacks, averaged 3.3 yards per rush and managed 250 yards of offense.
That's a good example of how statistics can be misleading, especially in the preseason. The important difference between the first and second games was that the first-team offense was sharper, helped by a front line that gave quarterback Josh McCown a more reasonable amount of time to operate. McCown was sacked twice, pressured into an interception and never got any rhythm going in Jacksonville. He took just one sack for no yards against Miami, completed five of his seven passes, threw a touchdown and never came close to throwing a pick.
If the Bucs' gain from Week One to Week Two was indeed real, it should be evident in Week Three. The Bucs now head to Buffalo where they will face the team that ranked second in the NFL in sacks last season, with 57. McCown and the starting offense will get its longest preseason running time, most likely well into the third quarter…but so will Buffalo's starting defense, presumably. There shouldn't be any misleading numbers after Saturday's game.
"They have legitimate rushers, of course – inside [Kyle] Williams and [Marcell] Dareus; of course, Mario [Williams] outside," said Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith. "But they can rush the passer, simple as that. They don't need a blitz. They can rush and get to the passer with their four guys, and we're trying to get to that point. So it will be a big challenge for our offensive line this week. And also of course, on the road. This is what we need to get ready for the football season."
The Jaguars and Dolphins featured some dangerous pass-rushers, as well, but the Bills should provide a more significant test, especially on the edges.
"This is a totally different group," said Smith.. Miami plays with more head-up guys inside. These are guys on edge that really get after you. You need to go through a team like this to see exactly where you are. So for us to make the progress we need before Carolina, we need to see a team like this."
The latest test for the Bucs' offensive line wasn't the only topic being discussed at team headquarters on Tuesday. Below are some additional thoughts from Coach Smith and several players.
Head Coach Lovie Smith
"First off, it was hot out there today. I know it's been hot every day, but it seemed like today it was a little bit hotter. So it was a tough practice for the guys to make it through. We pushed them pretty good. Carolina, I know who we play this week and that it's a preseason game, but everything we do is to get ready for the Panthers – they're coming up quickly. So there's not a lot of room for mental mistakes and things like that now. We were patient early on; now we need to get it right. So the tempo, of course, is picking up. We talked about how we want to play this week and what we're going to do. We do have some legitimate training camp battles going on. It's coming down to the last look before we have to make some hard decisions. For the most part, after the third preseason game, you have a pretty good idea what direction you're going to go at every position. So we're to that spot. Injury wise, Michael Johnson didn't practice. You probably saw him today. Knee bruise; should be good to go. Alterraun Verner is getting better. This is his first work in a long time, so we'll ease him back into the mix. Mike Jenkins continues to get better, but he wasn't able to do anything today. Beyond that, typical guys are still out. No one else came back full speed ready to go."
On defensive end Steven Means:
"He is coming back. I should have mentioned Steven. He's improved a lot quicker than we thought he would. Thought he would maybe be out a little bit longer, so it's good to get him back out there. Guys need to make the football team, guys need to get back out there. I mean, every rep they miss, of course, someone else is taking advantage of it."
On if wide receiver Solomon Patton being at the top of the depth chart for kick returner is earned on the practice field:
"It's based a lot on what happened last week as much as anything. We've been taking a look at a lot of different guys and the ones that made something happen get another look. It's kind of simple as that with him. We plan on giving him a couple of looks this week on both returns – kickoff and of course punts too."
On center Evan Dietrich-Smith:
"Love him. Everything about him. He's smart, good football player, good run blocker. So I like everything about him. He knows what's going on. Of course, he has to be a coach on the field. [Offensive line coach] George [Warhop] has done a great job with him. But he's got great football knowledge. Leader of our football team. He's used to that too, coming from a good program in Green Bay. We need guys like that to help us get to that point."
On safety Bradley McDougald:
"He's done a great job. Another one of the players like I talked about – Jorvorskie Lane – that we didn't know a lot about as we came into training camp. But good skills – I'm talking about corner skills. He'll hit. Last week, he really filled in the hole well. He's done a great job with the special teams. Another one of those safeties in the mix."
On if he has a preference on someone who is a nose tackle or a three technique pass rusher as a fourth defensive tackle:
"Well just me in general, we have to play with the nose. It's more of that approach. You can't have too many three techniques. When you're looking for inside guys, we're looking for three technique-type bodies. The lesser athlete will play nose."
Practice photos from Tuesday's practice at One Buc Place.
QB Josh McCown
On running a no-huddle offense:
"I think probably the main thing would be the pressure that it puts on a defense to get their calls in and to get going. Sometimes if you can build stressers into what you do, things that stress the defense that maybe doesn't stress you, I think that's a positive. I think probably the main is that is it pushes the tempo and it forces them to make decisions quicker and just for everybody to play faster. Obviously paramount to that is being able to do that yourself, without letting it affect your execution. It's a good tool to have, I don't know how much we'll do it, but it's a good tool to have."
On wide receiver Chris Owusu:
"He's been really solid, probably as much as anybody since the first day to now. Chris has been steady as – he always does what he's supposed to do and makes plays when they are there for him. I like what I've seen from him. He's physical, he's got some strength to him and obviously has the speed and has made big plays throughout the spring and throughout camp this year. I think he's definitely somebody that has been good to kind of get to know and get to see flourish because you already know him before you're out here, but as a young player he's going in the right direction, that's for sure."
On what he believes the offense needs to improve on this week:
"I think just take a step, get better and improve. I said this after the game the other night, but that's the idea, just every week you've got to improve, you've got to show some improvement and feel like you're gaining some ground. The beautiful thing about that is that's not going to change regardless of what you do on that day. You can go out and not punt, but you're going to find plays that you're going turn on the tape and go 'We could've played better, we could've done better things.' We'll always have that mantra of just trying to improve our football and what we do. That will be the idea against Buffalo, it's to go out and play good football. To me, we need to finish in the plus side of turnovers, I would really like to see that, that's what we talked about all of the time and it's part of what Buccaneer Football is going to be and so we've got to get that done. For our end, it's protecting the football and being smart with it, but I would to see that happen in this game."
On having to convert on third downs in the no-huddle offense to keep pressure off of the defense:
"No question that would be – when you're plus and minusing the kind of tempo style, that would be the negative to it obviously. You could have a quick turnaround, a quick three-and-out and you don't want to do that to your defense, but again it's not any different than if you were huddling, you still want to be efficient on third down. It does put a premium on converting, because you want to sustain drives and kind of inherent in playing that kind of ball is getting into rhythms and really pushing the tempo. We've scratched the surface with it, we'll see how much we'll use it but with that being said, we definitely – for me that's the biggest challenge is transitioning into third down because some of the things I've done in the past, I've not always kept the tempo going into third down. I think it's a good thing because it's a pressure down, but again if you talk about the things that tempo brings is the stressers it does to a defense, it may give you an edge. The coaches weigh all of those things out as they put the plan together they'll decide that, but certainly it's something that if you're not careful you'll look and go 'Wait a minute, it's third down?' it's because you're going so fast. It's definitely something that you have to be cognizant of."On what he's learned about the team since workouts began in April:
"I think we're learning more and more as we go through. We said this to start with, but you really never know. You think you have the right guys and we'll learn more about it, because we're still not in the regular season, but until you've faced adversity and you go through some things together and you start to get that with preseason, there are things that happen – the first offense we go out for that first game and it didn't go quite like we wanted it to. You have to process some things and adversity and the team is going to go through those things as well because we don't want to lose a game, but that may happen this year, so how are we going to respond to that? We're learning more about each other every day, but I think what I've learned since the spring until now would be that I feel like we have the right guys. More than anything, I'm just more encouraged as we've gone through these first two games and watched how guys have responded and how they've worked. I feel like we have a really good locker room and there's a bunch of men that are good football players, but also good character people that will work through and process adversity together and be able to come out on the other side in a positive note."On being more cognizant of not turning the ball over and taking a sack instead:
"That particular play they [sacked] me on coverage and it fooled me a little bit and I held onto the ball. It wasn't the O-line's fault, it was 100 percent on me – the ball should have gotten out. Those are some of the things that I look at and go the ball has to get out of my hand because sacks to me, I put as much on myself as I do anybody else because I want to find a way to get rid of the football. Hopefully those things don't happen in the regular season when you're spending a little bit more time on guys studying, but they got me on that particular one. There were answers [on that play]; I just should have gotten to it quicker. The older you get you realize if you can process and get to your check-downs, you can save plays and you can still find yardage in plays and find value in plays. Even though there wasn't a whole lot going on with the particular play, but there was still somebody there in a third or fourth progression, so absolutely and if not, then the ball has to be thrown away, but I don't want to take negative plays. Those are the things that – as I walk away from that game it was probably the most frustrating play for me. Sometimes you'll try to jam one in there and then bad things happen and that is true. If you're in the pocket and you can't throw it away to a good spot, then you can't spin it down the middle late or those things, you have to go ahead and eat it because obviously for us possessing the ball and not turning it over are valuable and key. There's a higher standard that I hold myself to and we want to avoid those things."
LB Mason Foster
On what the team is preparing for with the third preseason game:"Just keep flying around, keep reading your keys, and definitely get used to playing more than a quarter or two quarters at a time. Get ready; it's like a gameday for us. Just get used to the week, how we prepare, how the coaches go about and how we all go about getting in a groove and then get ready for the real deal."On how comfortable he is dropping back into coverage:"I feel comfortable. It's something I've been working on for a long time. We have great coaches, Coach Lovie, Coach Hardy [Nickerson], Coach [Leslie] Frazier. It makes it easier on you. They show you what you need to do, make it black and white. But you've got to continue to work, try to get better. But I feel comfortable. I feel like I made a big improvement in that area."
On what he has learned about this team from training camp:"Definitely that we've got a fast team. There are a lot of guys on offense that stretch the field. We've got fast guys on defense. But just how much everybody is competing. Everybody is close. We've got a great chemistry on this team. Guys are competing – we're pushing each other. We've got high expectations for this year."
DT Gerald McCoy
On how his big plays in the preseason help energize the rest of the team:
"I'm just trying to be the guy to give them – not just defense, but our team – a spark. Any big play, whether it be defense or offense. If it's on offense, a big run play or big pass can electrify and energize the defense to go out there and get a stop and get the ball back in our hands. So just making big plays early creates energy for the whole team."
On the differences between this defense and the defense he has previously played in:
"There's not too much thinking. Not too much thinking. It's kind of simple actually. Simple and hard at the same time. We just line up and do what we do and make you beat us. It's really a 'beat your man'-type defense. Just be more physical. We're not trying to out-execute or out-scheme anybody. We're just going to go out there and outplay them."
On the defense creating turnover opportunities:
"We had a lot of missed opportunities in both games. We should have taken the ball away. But more importantly, we have to create more opportunities. You create your opportunities in this league and we have to take the ball away and we can't depend on the offense to make mistakes. We have to force the opportunities and capitalize on them."