- The Bucs will field around 80 players on Friday night as they open the preseason in Jacksonville
- Depth at tight end, wide receiver and running back has to be sorted out during the preseason
- CBs Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins and S Dashon Goldson will not play in Friday's game
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be without a few key defensive players when it opens the 2014 preseason in Jacksonville on Friday night. The Buccaneers' offense, on the other hand, has more potential contributors than it knows what to do with.
Since this is Lovie Smith's first time on the sideline as Tampa Bay's head coach, and since he and General Manager Jason Licht reshaped the roster so dramatically in the spring, there is an endless supply of storylines waiting to unfold this preseason. It's safe to say, however, that the most intriguing ones are on the offensive side of the ball.
The tight end corps is suddenly deep in talent, but with few defined roles as of yet. The receivers are headlined by two potential superstars but the rest of the depth chart is completely unsettled. The offensive line is 80% rebuilt…or at least it will be when the two starting guard jobs are assigned. There's a new starting quarterback at the helm, and a former starting quarterback who is now the designated QB of the future. And the tailbacks…so many tailbacks. Doug Martin, Bobby Rainey, Charles Sims, Mike James and Jeff Demps will spend the next month forcing the coaching staff to either expand its running back depth chart or make some very tough decisions.
It all starts with that new quarterback, free agent addition Josh McCown, who won't play for too long on Friday night but will hopefully begin establishing himself as the offense's leader.
"As a veteran, I expect him to, number one, lead our football team, and the best way to lead your team is with good, sound play," said Smith shortly before Friday night's kickoff. "And I feel like we're going to get that from Josh. Of course, at the quarterback you want to make great decisions and he will do that. He has a good arm, he's athletic and we're expecting big things from him."
Glennon, the then-rookie who started 13 games last fall, could actually get more playing time than McCown on Friday as the Bucs cycle through their reserves. He doesn't have anything in particular he has to prove to Smith and his staff in the preseason opener, but over the course of such opportunities he will presumably cement the team's belief that he's the long-term answer under center.
"We let him know that Josh is our guy but eventually he will be our guy," said Smith of Glennon. "And if you know that, you know it's around the corner for you. As a football player, you just need to try to perfect your craft, and that's what he's been doing – reading Josh, getting knowledge from Josh but just going to work every day. He can make every throw you want a quarterback to make."
McCown will line up behind the new-look starting offensive line, which for Friday evening at least will include Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins as the guards. It's possible that Meredith and/or Cousins will stay in a bit longer after McCown and most of the other starters have departed and provide some blocking for Glennon; if not Glennon will be relying on the likes of Patrick Omameh, Kadeem Edwards and a few others to keep the Jaguars off him.
"It's a new season and it comes with a lot of change," Smith acknowledged. "Evan Dietrich-Smith has been outstanding at our center position; of course, he's played in the league at a high level. Anthony Collins, bringing him in from Cincinnati, has really manned that left tackle position well. Demar Dotson, he's the only holdover from last year and we like what he's been able to do. And I can understand why people have concern about our guard positions but Oniel Cousins and Jamon Meredith will play tonight, start the game, and we have a lot of other players to look at it.
"You start the process. You let them play, as much as anything, and we're going to let them play…maybe let a few of the guys play a little bit more than normal in these situations. After you let guys play, they tell you exactly what you need to know. Our offensive line, I'm pretty sure they're pretty excited to play against someone else besides Gerald McCoy every day in practice."
Hopefully, that front line can open some decent holes for the backfield, because the Bucs truly have a need to sort through the candidates in that group. Martin probably won't play extensively, but the team is eager to get its first live-game look at the rookie Sims and to see the relative strengths of Rainey and James. And, of course, a very large portion of the Bucs' fan base (especially those who wear orange and blue on Saturdays), wants to see how the team can make use of Jeff Demps.
"[Martin] has looked very well, has done a great job," said Smith. "Of course, he's been healthy, every day from OTAs on, so I haven't seen the injury part of it. But he works hard, tough runner. He's really worked on catching the ball out of the backfield. But we feel like we have a stable of running backs, we really do. Bobby Rainey is an excellent player. He'll not only play running back for us; you could see him returning a few punts in the return game, as you will Mike James, who's a big, physical running back. And we're all anxious to see what Charles Sims can do. He's been impressive in practices."
As for those missing defenders, they're all in the secondary: safety Dashon Goldson and cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins. Goldson has been getting a somewhat lighter load in training camp to ease him back from foot surgery, while Verner and Jenkins are recovering from minor leg injuries. Smith and his staff may choose to rest a few other players, but there are no official inactives in preseason games.
In other words, expect to see a whole lot of Buccaneers in action on Friday night, perhaps north of 80 of them. It's safe to say that Smith is eager to see what every one of them can do.
"[This has been a] long time coming," he said. "We have a lot to see, of course, with our football team, and this is the next step. Players know that up to now we haven't had a chance to finish, and it is different when you play and get a chance to hit someone else. They've worked extremely hard. We took the pads off a few days ago, and I feel like they're fresh and we should see their best. I have high hopes for a lot of our players."
The Bucs will open their 2014 preseason against the Jaguars on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET at EverBank Field in Jacksonville. The game will be broadcast on radio through the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM. That radio broadcast will also be carried live on Buccaneers.com.