Young players hoping to survive upcoming roster cuts have hit crunch time in practice and in the upcoming game in Jacksonville
Though Saturday's preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars doesn't count on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' record, the upcoming contest has significant implications for a number of Bucs players. That was the primary message on Tuesday of Head Coach Jon Gruden, who explained that the evaluation process is growing more intense as cut-down dates approach.
"These are big evaluations coming up here for us," Gruden said after Tuesday's practice. "The Jaguars are one heck of a football team; they've proven that.
"We're still evaluating guys as potential starters. There's a perception that the starting lineup is etched in stone. We're still looking at some competitive situations, on offense particularly. At the same time, we would like to see our starters – some of them – play a little bit longer than others, and some will play for the first time. Everybody's situation is a little bit different."
One position sure to draw the attention of Gruden and his coach staff is that of safety. With only four years of experience under his belt, returning starter Jermaine Phillips is the veteran among a group of safeties with barely more than six combined years of NFL experience. Given the way the young defensive backs have played so far, to say that the team lacks depth at safety might be off the mark, but the team does lack seasoning at the position.
"They're all young," Gruden said. "None of them have gone wire to wire as a starter in the NFL. We like Phillips and [Will] Allen – they're clearly the most experienced, but they're young guys. [Kalvin] Pearson has had a really good camp not only as a safety but as a special teams player. He stood out in my mind. Other than that, we've had moments where Blue Adams has looked good. We've had days when [Steve] Cargile has done some things and [Donte] Nicholson has done some things. It's a position that we're going to isolate carefully in this next game and these last two weeks of camp."
Another area Gruden specifically mentioned was the offensive line. After helping Buccaneers running backs gain 167 yards in the first preseason game, the unit was pushed around a bit against Miami, as evidenced by the four sacks it surrendered as well as the 67 total rushing yards gained by Bucs running backs.
"I'm not going to stand here and say that I'm just overly thrilled," Gruden said. "We've done some good things, but we expect good things, too. We've got to get better – that's for sure."
It's a cold, hard fact of the NFL. Of the 89 men on the current Buccaneers roster, only 53 will make the team come September 2 – exactly one week from Saturday's game. For many players, these remaining few weeks of the preseason represent a time when they will be competing for their professional lives. That is a fact not lost on the players.
"You don't have to tell players that," Gruden said. "I think they look at the film, and they see that there is legitimate competition on this team. I think they know that with Bruce Allen here, the way we're going to go about this is we're going to make sure we have as competitive a camp as we can have. And all of us are accountable for putting our best stuff out there every day. We like our team, we like some of the things that we've seen, yet we also feel like there are areas that we need to improve upon."
Those areas, Gruden said, include everything from run defense to offensive execution and special teams. If it sounds like every area of the team has something to prove, it does. Anything Gruden deems as potentially costing the team a win is simply unacceptable. That includes field position, or the lack there of, and drive-killing penalties.
"It's not perfect, nothing's perfect," Gruden said. "Defensively, statistically, we're doing some good things. We got off to a great start last week, but I didn't like the way we defended the run overall in the second half. I thought we played a little bit high. I thought Miami got some good movement against us. I'd like to see the second group finish the game stronger in the third and fourth quarter.
"I'd like to see the offense stay away from penalties. The opening couple of possessions that the starters have been in there, we've had penalties that have stymied drives, and it's disgusting. It's horrific. It's going to lose us football games.
"I'd like to see some returns. I'd like to see us return a ball. We haven't had some balls to play, really. We've had some touchbacks and fair catches, but I'd like to see our return game get going. If you want me to keep going, I'll keep going. We're not the dream team right now. We've got a long way to go. We need to see a lot more overall team execution."
Other comments from Head Coach Jon Gruden
On Blue Adams' transition from cornerback to safety: "A lot of guys do that nowadays, and if you're in these meeting and in all these run-fit drills and you have some intelligence, you have a chance to do it. Blue Adams is a tough guy. He's a solid special teams guy and a pretty good tackler. He's a football junkie, and those are the kind of guys who make that transition. He's done well for himself. He's proven he can make the calls and handle the adjustments. He's got coverage ability. He'll tackle you. He's getting better and better the more he plays there."
On if the quarterback rotation will stay the same for Saturday's game: "Yes, I believe so. I'm not going to make any statements that I can't back up right now. We'll see how it goes in the next couple of days. If everything goes as planned, it will be somewhat the same."
On the decision to hold certain veterans out of preseason games: "I'm not giving anybody preferential treatment. Giving a guy no reps in a preseason game is not a reward to them; it's a reward to the guys who get to play. It's a reward to David Boston. It's a reward to Barrett Ruud – to some of these guys who have worked extremely hard who are going to get a chance to play in a preseason game. Some of these guys didn't get a chance to play at all last year at linebacker or wide receiver, etc., so the preseason is really a chance for us to see where they are and a great tool to evaluate them."
On Joey Galloway's lack of preseason playing time: "Galloway's taken his turns out here [at practice], and once again I'm not going to compare some of the other receivers to Galloway. He's 33 or 34 years old, and he's going to play a little bit in this game. He's never been a guy to really ring it up in the preseason for anybody. He's got a different training program. I've had to adjust a lot of my schedules and beliefs around this kind of athlete."