Jameis Winston will make his second NFL start on Monday and it will be his first action in front of the home crowd. This one will be seen by a lot more than the Tampa Bay area, however.
PREVIEW: BUCCANEERS VS. BENGALS
The Buccaneers take on the Cincinnati Bengals in a preseason version of Monday Night Football, which means they'll be performing for a national audience. Even if the game isn't important to the regular-season standings, it's still a good opportunity for Winston and the rest of the Buccaneers to put their skills on display for the rest of the NFL. Most importantly, the 90 players on a roster that eventually has to be trimmed to 53 will get another dose of fully live football, something they don't get much of in training camp.
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"There's no other substitute for [live action]," said Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith. "We don't scrimmage against a lot of teams; I don't believe in that an awful lot. We like to use these preseason games for that purpose. Those [starting] guys like last week will go at least a half, going against a very good front."
Winston's first pro game came nine days earlier in the Buccaneers' preseason opener at Minnesota. It was, predictably, an up-and-down outing for the rookie passer, though it ended on a high note. Winston's nine-of-19 passing performance included some off-target throws early but also an impressive 40-yard pass to Vincent Jackson and a flawless two-minute drill that led to a touchdown. He also made an impression with his feet, finishing that TD drive with an eight-yard scoring scramble.
"He competes hard every day, so he went right back to work," said Smith. "We had some good training camp practices. You just want to improve on some of the mistakes that you made, protecting the football a little better. We had one turnover last week; we want it to be zero. He did a lot of good things and we want to see improvement again this week."
The Buccaneers are expected to get several other rookies into the most important part of Monday night's action. The team selected offensive linemen Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet in the second round of this year's draft, and both players are expected to get their first starts in Week Two of the preseason. Smith is in a battle for the starting left tackle job while Marpet is trying to grab the right guard position. The Buccaneers will also get their first look at newly-signed tackle Gosder Cherilus, the eighth-year veteran who could be their answer to the injury-caused absence of Demar Dotson.
The Bengals' projected starters, according to the team's depth chart.
Going into camp you want to bring along some of your younger players, and of course we've done that," said Smith. "Of course, Jameis Winston will start. Kwon Alexander on the other side of the ball will start. Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet…so we wanted to bring along some of our young players and we've done that. Donovan Smith played against a good player last week and he'll get the same this week. And, of course, Ali Marpet plays against a great player each day but he'll get a different flavor with Geno Atkins tonight."
Another rookie who is expected to get first-team reps on Monday night is linebacker Kwon Alexander, a fourth-round pick who was the talk of the team's recently-concluded training camp. Alexander's impressive play at middle linebacker with the second-team defense in Minnesota earned him a look with the first-team defense throughout the past week of practice, and now he's presumably going to get a chance to show what he can do – and call plays – with the starters.
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"First off, as a linebacker, you want to have a guy that will hit," said Smith. "He'll strike you. He plays hard, he's got great speed. I think he was the fastest linebacker at the Combine. He loves football and loves competing. We've seen improvement daily from him. But there's a lot you have to learn. He's still a rookie. There are a lot of reads, a lot of things you have to see, but you get that playing the game. He's excited about playing tonight, and we're excited to have both of your signal-callers, on both sides of the ball, being rookies. We think both of them are going to be pretty good players in the future.
There are no official inactives during the preseason, but the Buccaneers did reveal six players who will not suit up for Monday's game: S Chris Conte, LB Orie Lemon, DE Jacquies Smith, C Josh Allen, T Demar Dotson and DE T.J. Fatinikun. The Bengals will play without the services of WR Tevin Reese, CB Darqueze Dennard, CB Brandon Ghee, LB Vontaze Burfict, LB Sean Porter, G Trey Hopkins, T Cedric Ogbuehi, T Andre Smith, T Jake Fisher, WR Onterio McCalebb, DE Michael Johnson and DT Pat Sims.
The Buccaneers take on the Bengals in Week Two of the 2015 preseason on Monday night, with kickoff scheduled for 8:00 p.m. ET at Raymond James Stadium. The game will be broadcast to a national audience by ESPN and locally on radio through the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM.