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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

5 Battles to Watch in Joint Practice with Jets

The Buccaneers and Jets will get together at the Atlantic Health Training Center for a joint practice on Wednesday, and there are some head-to-head matchups that will be entertaining

5 Btatles to watch_

After two back-to-back practices on Sunday (pads) and Monday (spiders), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will travel to Florham Park, New Jersey on Tuesday. The Buccaneers and Jets have a joint practice scheduled on Wednesday before their preseason matchup on Saturday night at MetLife Stadium. 

Throughout the previous week, Buccaneer players have vocalized their excitement to face an unfamiliar foe after two weeks spent going up against their own teammates at the AdventHealth Training Center. The joint session on Wednesday will offer both coaching staffs the opportunity to script certain situational scenarios. 

"It's good for the veteran guys to go up there because, in preseason, you hardly show anything," said Head Coach Todd Bowles on the joint practice. "It's pretty vanilla. You can get all of your stuff in during the week in practice. It's really played like a game – that's why you're allowed to rest those guys come game time. The practices aren't on film, so you can really run your defense and your offense, and they can run their defense and their offense. You can get a look at live stuff full speed. Come preseason games, everything is very vanilla. That's when the younger guys usually get their experience to fly around and play. The practices for us are like games for the veterans and the game itself is really for experience for the rookies."

For both the Buccaneers and Jets, there are players on each team who pose a challenge to their opponent. Here are five head-to-head battles to monitor on Wednesday in New Jersey: 

Mike Evans vs. Sauce Gardner 

Buccaneers' darling Mike Evans will face the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year and All-Pro, Sauce Gardner. Gardner started 17 games last season for the Jets and accumulated 75 tackles, two interceptions and notched an NFL-best 20 passes defensed. He was selected to the Pro Bowl and became the first rookie cornerback to be named first-team All-Pro since Hall of Fame cornerback Ronnie Lott in 1981. Gardner utilizes his length and physicality to impose his will on the release and disrupts the tempo of routes. He attacks passing lanes from off coverage and anticipates play development. With sticky hands and a fiery competitive spirit, Gardner took the NFL by storm last season. 

Evans, the only player in NFL history to begin a career with nine-consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, has his own impressive resumé. He has cemented his legacy as one of the best receivers in the league, achieving both longevity and consistency. As both a chain-mover and red zone threat, Evans utilizes his size to power through the jam and box out defenders. He is nearly unstoppable in executing back-shoulder catches and high-pointing the football over the top of defensive backs. Evans creates subtle separation by "friendliness at the top of his routes," according to Baker Mayfield. 

"Just his body language at the top of his routes, how friendly it is," Mayfield described. "It is unlike any wide receiver I have ever played with. I am getting used to how friendly it is and just being able to trust and let it go earlier and earlier. It just speaks to how great he has been consistently year over year with whoever is throwing the ball to him. He is going to do his job. He is going to do it at a very high level. He is going to make plays for you."

This will be a great challenge for both the Bucs' veteran receiver and the Jets' young defender. Grab the popcorn. 

Baker Mayfield vs. Michael Carter II

Baker Mayfield will continue in his competition with third-year man Kyle Trask for Tampa Bay's starting quarterback role in 2023. Both Mayfield and Trask will see significant reps during practice with the first-team offense against the Jets, striving to secure a permanent role under center. Mayfield, who completed eight of nine passes for 63 yards and one touchdown against the Steelers in the preseason opener, will vie to continue the positive trend on Wednesday against the Jets' ascending defense. He has showcased the ability to extend plays using his legs, quickly process from read to read, accurately deliver the ball downfield and deliver off-platform throws with a tight release. 

On Wednesday, Michael Carter II will try to nullify Mayfield's passes from reaching their intended targets. He is adept at covering the flat/curl zone and preventing plays over the top.  Carter II, the Jets' nickel corner, had 63 tackles and 2 interceptions in 17 games last season. Carter II often finds himself isolated in challenging situations downfield, but he routinely disrupts. He allowed just 95 air yards (yards gained from the line of scrimmage to the point of the catch) in 12 games last season, yielding just under eight air yards-per-game. Carter II is elite in coverage and presents an interesting matchup against the Bucs' revamped offense. 

Jamel Dean vs. Garrett Wilson 

Jamel Dean is quietly becoming one of the league's top corners. Dean allowed the fifth-fewest yards (386) as the nearest defender among all NFL cornerbacks (minimum 60 targets) in 2022, per Next Gen Stats. Of all cornerbacks who played at least 50 percent of snaps in 2022, Dean graded second among all corners. He came out second in tackling grade and missed tackle percentage (1.9). Throughout the entirety of the 2022 slate, Dean missed one tackle. Since he entered the NFL in 2019, Dean has allowed the fewest yards per target (5.7) among all NFL defensive backs (minimum 150 targets). Last season, Dean started 15 regular season games, missing two with a toe injury. He accumulated 54 tackles, one tackle for loss, two interceptions and eight passes defensed. Dean possesses physicality at the line and a rare element that most defensive backs do not: 4.3-makeup speed. He is confident in that quickness, waiting to see if a receiver breaks for a curl and once the wideout runs past - providing the tell that it is a deep shot downfield - Dean turns his hips and quickly accelerates to top speed, closing the window to disrupt the catch space. The well-rounded lockdown athlete will face New York's Garrett Wilson. 

Wilson racked up 1,103 receiving yards on 83 catches en route to the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. He recorded 56 first downs and was utilized up and down the line of scrimmage for the Jets in 2022, taking advantage of matchups. Wilson had 540 snaps out wide and 280 in the slot last season, generating the highest ratings in his repertoire off crossing routes (106.0), corner routes (153.3), in routes (137.5) and post routes (92.6). He possesses deceptive speed, quick acceleration, and slippery talent after the catch to move the chains. With solid burst, Wilson can make any catch/handoff go the distance and Dean will need to unleash his bag of tricks on Wednesday. 

Bucs' Edge Rushers vs. Aaron Rodgers

The Jets finalized a blockbuster trade in April that brought four-time NFL MVP and sure-fire Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers to New York. Rodgers, regarded as one of the most prolific passers in league history, has an esteemed resumé: Four-time first-team All-Pro (2011, 2014, 2020 and 2021), 10-time Pro Bowler, touchdown-to-interception ratio of 4.52 (475 to 105) and the fastest to reach 300 touchdown passes (144 games) and 400 touchdown passes (192 games). Rodgers reunites with the Jets' new Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett in New York, who previously occupied the role for the Packers from 2019-21. During that three-year span with Hackett, Rodgers averaged 4,139 passing yards and totaled 111 touchdown passes (13 interceptions) in 48 games. Additionally, he was named a back-to-back MVP in 2020-21 while producing the two best completion percentage campaigns of his illustrious career (70.7 and 68.9). The gunslinger delivers the ball with pinpoint precision. Rodgers is a wizard of the no-look pass and possesses the coveted quarterback traits: poise, confidence and competitive demeanor.

With solid protection, Rodgers can light up a defense. On Wednesday, the Bucs' outside linebackers will be ready to hunt. Both Shaquil Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka have an insatiable desire for getting after the quarterback and although full-contact/sacks will not be permitted during the padded practice, collapsing the pocket will be. Last season for the Bucs' defense, nose tackle Vita Vea spearheaded the charge with a team-high 6.5 sacks. At the conclusion of the 2022 season, Head Coach Todd Bowles vocalized his assessment of the team's overall pass rush, citing the need to see additional pressure production from the outside linebackers. Last season, Tampa Bay's defense suffered a significant blow in October as Barrett suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the third quarter of the 27-22 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, prematurely ending his stellar campaign. Fast-forward and Wednesday provides an opportunity for Barrett and JTS to showcase their skills off the edge, reinvigorating the unit. 

Robert Hainsey/Matt Feiler vs. Quinnen Williams 

Quinnen Williams anchors the Jets' defensive line, causing havoc. In 2022, he reached new heights, accumulating 12 sacks, 55 tackles (12 for a loss), 28 quarterback hits, four pass deflections and two forced fumbles. He spearheaded the Jets' pass rush and earned a lucrative, four-year extension this summer. Williams is now the second-highest-paid defensive tackle behind Rams' Aaron Donald. The Bucs will have to know where No. 95 is and adjust protections accordingly. Williams is a human bowling ball with rare closing burst and accelerates past redirect blocks to torment quarterbacks. He is able to create instant wins at the point of attack and overwhelms centers/guards. Whether he lines up as the one or 3-technique, Williams abuses the interior of offensive lines. 

During the joint practice, Robert Hainsey and Matt Feiler will see a heavy dose of Williams. Feiler, the Bucs' offseason acquisition, is entering his eighth NFL season since signing with the Houston Texans as a college free agent in 2014. He has appeared in 79 career games (73 starts) between the Pittsburgh Steelers (2016-20) and Los Angeles Chargers (2021-22). Feiler became a full-time starter with the Steelers in 2018 and throughout his tenure in the league, Feiler has registered 3,234 snaps at left guard and 1,599 snaps at right tackle. According to Pro Football Focus, Feiler received a 74.0 overall grade in 2021, the fourth-highest mark among left guards with 1,000-or-more snaps that year. His run blocking grade of 78.5 was second-highest among left guards with 1,000-or-more snaps, trailing only former Bucs' legend Ali Marpet. He is the current starter at left guard on the depth chart and Robert Hainsey, the team's backup center, will get work with the first-team. Ryan Jensen is still recovering from tearing all three knee ligaments on the second day of training camp in 2022 and Hainsey will vie for the vacant role, alongside Nick Leverett. Todd Bowles has not disclosed a timetable for Jensen's return and the staff will continue to take a cautionary approach to his recovery. 

"When we go into the season, I don't consider to have anybody [ready for Week 1] if they haven't practiced. You always prepare if somebody gets hurt or if somebody's going to stay hurt," Bowles said.

Hainsey, last season's 17-game starter, will continue to compete with Nick Leverett for the reserve role. He will see extensive snaps during Wednesday's scrimmage and a productive outing against Williams would certainly up his stock. Hainsey started Friday night's preseason opener against the Steelers, logging 47 snaps. Conversely, Leverett posted 26. Hainsey has an experience advantage and Leverett's agility adds intrigue for the Bucs' retooled outside/mid zone system. Leverett started the final 10 games at left guard last season after rookie Luke Goedeke suffered a lower-leg injury.

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