It's Week Three of the preseason, which means the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starters will likely play into the second half before hitting the showers. On the other hand, the showers have already hit the Buccaneers, as well as the visiting Cleveland Browns, as the two prepare to do battle at Raymond James Stadium Saturday night.
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Yes, it's another stormy day in the Tampa Bay area, but it appears as if the game will start under relatively clear skies. And if the track does prove to be a little wet and the footballs a little slick for the quarterbacks, that's just another valuable learning experience provided by the preseason. In the same vein, the Buccaneers are playing just five days after their Monday night win over the Cincinnati Bengals, a compressed schedule that provides the same type of challenges the team will face when it plays a potentially critical Thursday night game in December.
"It went well," said Head Coach Lovie Smith of the practice week, which included three lighter-than-usual workouts. "It's a change, though. We'd rather have the full week, where you go through your game-week routine, but we adjusted. We weren't able to go out in pads as much as we wanted to but we got some great work done this week."
Fortunately, the Buccaneers didn't have to focus on fixing a variety of problems from the previous game, as the team dominated for most of the night in a 25-11 win over the visiting Bengals. Rather, that game becomes a foundation from which the Bucs hope to continue to build on Saturday night.
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"If you talk all three phases, there's something you really like [from Monday's game]," said Smith. "Obviously, not turning the ball over; getting the running game going; defensively, of course, scoring and taking the ball away; and special teams-wise, pinning them back on the one-yard line kind of led to a score. All three phases did something, we set the bar higher and we want to start there this week."
The Bucs saw particularly significant improvement in the trenches, as the offensive line opened holes for a powerful rushing attack and the defensive line racked up a trio of sacks against the Bengals' starting group, plus a fourth later in the game. The starting O-Line included rookies Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet at left tackle and right guard, respectively, and those two will start again on Saturday night. Veteran center Evan Smith returns to action after missing that game, pushing Jeremiah Warren back into a reserve role, but second-year man Reid Fragel will once again open the contest at right tackle.
"We made progress on the O-Line of course last week, starting four players that hadn't really played a lot against a good front," said Smith. "You get more and more confidence when you play better, but we're not there yet. We just want to keep building on what we had last week. Again, it will be another challenge, a 3-4 front which is a little different for our guys, competing against us every day. I'm anxious to see how we handle them."
Defensive end George Johnson had 1.5 of the team's four sacks, sharing one with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. All four of the Bucs' sacks were generated by defensive linemen, with Larry English and Caushaud Lyons also getting in on the act.
The Browns' projected starters, according to the team's unofficial depth chart as of August 24, 2015.
"We talk a lot about four-man pressure, being able to get that and not having to rely on bringing five or six guys. We were able to get that from the start. Gerald McCoy and the crew got good pressure. We get T.J. Fatinikun back tonight also, so we should have some additional help up front."
Again, the Bucs' starters on both sides of the ball are expected to play past halftime before hitting the showers. The team generally uses the third preseason game as the longest tune-up for the starting units, and to let them practice making and enacting halftime adjustments.
"Our starters will come out…we want the starters to come out after the first half to start the second half," said Smith. "We'll see exactly how much they'll play into the third quarter, but we'll all play into the third."
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There are no inactives during the preseason, but the Buccaneers released a list of eight players who definitely will not play Saturday night: WRs Mike Evans and Kenny Bell, CB Leonard Johnson, S Major Wright, DE Jacquies Smith and offensive linemen Demar Dotson, Josh Allen and Kevin Pamphile. D.J. Swearinger will start in place of Wright at strong safety while Henry Melton will fill in for Smith at right defensive end for the second straight week.
The Browns had a long list of scratches for Saturday's game: QBs Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw; WRs Marlon Moore and Terrelle Pryor; DBs Justin Gilbert, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Robert Nelson, Jordan Poyer and K'Waun Williams; RBs Glenn Winston and Luke Lundy; LBs Nate Orchard and Barkevious Mingo; offensive linemen Michael Bowie and Ishmaa'ily Kitchen; and TE Randall Telfer.
The Buccaneers take on the Browns in Week Three of the 2015 preseason on Saturday night, with kickoff scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET. The game will be played at Raymond James Stadium and will be broadcast in the Bay area on television by WFLA News Channel 8 and on radio through the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM.