An NFL preseason game is usually seen as an exercise with two separate goals that, while not necessarily mutually exclusive, aren't tightly connected either: Victory, and in-depth roster evaluation.
There is a third goal in the preseason, however, that might in the long run be more important than either of those two: Avoid injury.
The Bucs seem to have hit on all three Friday night in Miami, where they opened their 2012 preseason with a 20-7 win over the Dolphins. They managed to get 82 players into the game, including dozens of rookies and first-year players looking to make an impression.
And, best of all, they came out of their first 60 minutes of live football not much worse for the wear.
Rookie tackle Mike VanDerMeulen, an undrafted free agent out of Toledo, sustained a knee injury in the second half and was sent to get an MRI exam on Saturday. Head Coach Greg Schiano said that was the only new injury of note to come out of the Dolphins game.
In contrast, the first practice of training camp produced two injuries that have had more of a lasting impact on the team's preparations. Both wide receiver Arrelious Benn (knee) and cornerback E.J. Biggers (foot) – two players who might be considered the first alternate to a pair of starters at their positions – suffered injuries on Day One of camp that could keep them out for all or most of the preseason. To make it through the first game with significantly less damage than that was obviously a positive.
The Bucs did hold a handful of players out of the game, including veteran tight end Dallas Clark and rookie safety Mark Barron. Schiano said neither player was a major concern but the team chose to take the cautious route.
"[Clark] is okay," said the coach. "We're just being smart. He's gotten bumped a little bit but nothing bad. We just want to make sure we work him into it at a good tempo. Mark, we thought was going to go, but in warm-ups he felt the toe just wasn't ready to play, and I didn't want to mess around if he felt that way. Best to wait for a week."
Schiano said he doesn't think Barron's minor toe injury will linger, and that he thinks the first-round pick out of Alabama will likely be able to play next Friday against Tennessee.