Three of the players who have made the 2014 draft class of wide receivers so historically prolific – Mike Evans, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry – will be on the field Friday night when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns do battle at Raymond James Stadium. However, at least one of them will watch from the sideline; Evans, the Buccaneers' star wideout, will be sidelined by a leg injury sustained earlier in the week in practice.
Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians confirmed on Wednesday that Evans was out for Week Three after seeing limited time along with the rest of the first-team offense in games against Pittsburgh and Miami. Those players who missed the Miami game last Friday and have not yet returned to practice will be held out as well. That list includes outside linebacker Jason Pierre Paul and safety Justin Evans, both of whom remain on the active/PUP list, as well as linebacker Lavonte David, defensive linemen Vita Vea and Jeremiah Ledbetter. Two of the team's 2019 draftees, safety Mike Edwards and outside linebacker Anthony Nelson, remain out of action, but sixth-round wide receiver Scotty Miller has practiced this week and could make his NFL debut on Friday.
There are a handful of additional players who have missed practice time this week but Arians referred to them as "game-time decisions." He also reiterated that he will figure on during the game how long to leave the starters in.
"Like I said yesterday, how much they play will be determined on how we're playing, and we'll make those decisions as the game goes on," said Arians. "It's a really good challenge for us. It's a heck of a good football team coming in and it will be a nice measuring stick."
Evans is just the third player in NFL history to begin his career with five straight 1,000-yard seasons, and obviously his availability for the regular-season opener on September 8 is far more significant than whether or not he makes a cameo in the third preseason game. Landry set an NFL record with 481 receptions in his first five seasons, while Beckham's 92.8 receiving yards per game in that same span is better than all NFL wideouts except Julio Jones and Antonio Brown. Both Landry and Jones were also held out of Cleveland's first two games.
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers preseason practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
Arians also repeated on Wednesday that veteran kicker Cairo Santos is going to get a chance to prove himself from long distance, presuming the Buccaneers find themselves in a situation to kick one in the next two weeks. Last Friday, rookie Matt Gay nailed a 48-yarder with six seconds left to beat the Dolphins, 16-14. Gay was also called on to try a 55-yarder in Pittsburgh in Week One, which he also made.
Gay and Santos are in a head-to-head battle for the Bucs' kicking job, and they've combined to go six-for-six on field goals and extra points so far. However, the only field goal try for Santos was a 23-yarder earlier in the Miami game. Despite Gay's hot start, Arians says the competition is far from over.
"Cairo will get the first long one this week and see how that works out," said the coach. "It's going to go down to the wire."
Second-year running back Ronald Jones, who is averaging 4.2 yards per carry in the preseason and looks intent on carving out a much bigger role in the Bucs' offense this year, missed the first two practices following the Miami game. However, he returned to action on Tuesday and Wednesday. Jones and Peyton Barber have both gotten carries behind the first-team line in the first two games and the Bucs definitely want to have a one-two punch in the backfield this year.
It does not appear as if the knee swelling Jones experienced earlier in the week will keep him out of action against the Browns. However, Arians could still choose to be cautious with the young back. His response regarding Jones' health on Wednesday suggested that if the young rusher was held out it would be due to a coach's decision.
"If he plays, he'll be fine," said Arians.
The Buccaneers are playing the Browns in the third game of the preseason for the fourth time in the last five years. That's relevant because the third week is the one in which almost all coaches play their starting units longer into the game. The results, then, are presumably more like one could expect in the regular season, at least during the first half of the game.
As such, the Buccaneers would get a more serious week-three test this year if the growing buzz around the Browns proves to be warranted. Cleveland's busy offseason included the trade for Odell Beckham and Olivier Vernon, adding to an impressive array of talent on both sides of the ball. The Browns have a very promising second-year quarterback in Baker Mayfield, the first-overall pick in the 2018 draft, and they won five of their last seven games last season.
Arians believes the hype.
"I think [it's] totally justified, yeah, [because of] what they did in the offseason," he said. "They've got a great young quarterback. I think he's one of the best young guys to come in the league in a while. He brings a lot of confidence [and] a lot of energy to that team. You can just see them – I [broadcasted] them in the first game, then I did them later in the season – it was a totally different ball club, and it fed off to their defense. They've got some really good young players on defense, too. That's a heck of a group of guys – you add the guys they added in the offseason and yeah, I think they're a contender right off the bat."
The countdown to season kickoff is on! The Bucs are kicking off the NFL's 100th season with a FREE Tim McGraw pregame concert for all fans with a ticket to the home opener on Sept. 8! Get your tickets today.