League-wide, the third preseason game is dubbed the closest thing to a 'dress rehearsal' professional football has. Where starters and the 'ones' play a minimal amount of snaps in the first couple games (starting quarterback Jameis Winston and the rest of the first-team offense played only the opening drives, the starting defense – 10-15 plays), the third game could see them play up to an entire half of football.
It likely won't come to that. It's a balancing act for coaches. You want to see what the team has digested in training camp, but you don't want to risk injury to your starters in a game that has no bearing on the 2019 regular season.
"It's odd because I went to the offensive line, I said 'How much do we need to play?'" Head Coach Bruce Arians said this week. "They said 'We need a half.' I said 'I don't think you do. We'll see about that.' But, they wanted to play a half to get into a little bit more rhythm. It's a catch-22. It always has been and always will be. It's just like going out and tackling in practice – you've got to do it and you've just got to hold your breath that nobody gets hurt."
How much work his starters will get will be a game-time decision for Arians when it comes down to Friday night. He's not going in with a set plan as he has the last couple games. For evaluation purposes, it will be longer than a drive for his offensive starters, but how much more really depends on them.
"It depends how we start," Arians said. "If we start real fast and then have a good first quarter, that might be it. If it's slow, we might play a bit more. Looking at number of snaps, if we have two 10-play drives, we'll probably be finished. If we have five three-play drives, we'll keep playing – one of those things. Defense will be the same way."
Just what will the coaching staff be looking for? On defense, it will no doubt be the communication amongst players and their grasp of the new system against a formidable opponent. On offense, there will obviously be an eagle eye on the offensive line and how their performance helps a certain signal caller, who has been working all preseason on improved decision making as he gets used to Arians' offense.
"You're always looking for improvement, but he's played really solid [during] the little bit he's played and again, [he needs to] protect the football and make those decisions that move the chains," Arians said of Jameis Winston. "[We need to] play better around him, not have those mental errors where we turn a guy loose on him like they did last week and let him continue to grow."
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers preseason practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
The team practiced this week in more of a game-week structure. The first team offense, instead of facing the first or second-team defense as they did in training camp, instead faced a scout team that mimicked their opponent; in this case, the Cleveland Browns. Come Friday night, they'll be going against Cleveland's starters and it will be their toughest test of the preseason – especially given the team the Browns will be fielding. They come into Raymond James Stadium as one of the most eagerly anticipated teams league-wide. Yes, the Browns.
"I think [it's] totally justified, yeah, [because of] what they did in the offseason," Arians said of the hype surrounding Cleveland. "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."
Arians, along with many of his assistants, also have a personal connection themselves. Browns Head Coach Freddie Kitchens was an Arians assistant in Arizona from 2013-2017, though his time in Ai zona preceded the Arians hire. Prior to the Cardinals, he was on a Dallas Cowboys staff in 2006 that included both Bucs Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles and defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers. Arians said this week that he never likes going against former assistants (and current friends) but being the preseason, the competition becomes more fun than anything.
It should also be 'fun' for former-Browns-turned-Buccaneers, wide receiver Breshad Perriman and outside linebacker Carl Nassib. Perriman was signed in free agency this year by the Bucs from Cleveland. Perriman is a deep-threat receiver that saw his prospective playing time dwindle with Cleveland's signing of Odell Beckham Jr.
Nassib came to the Bucs before the 2018 season after being released by the Browns following training camp. Nassib had a chance to face his former team in Week Seven of last season, where the Bucs beat Mayfield and Co. in the regular season by a score of 26-23. Nassib had 2 sacks (his first career multi-sack game) as well as a batted down pass way out in the flat as he dropped in coverage from a 4-3 defensive end spot in the game.
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.