Pictures of Jameis Winston during joint practice with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held joint practices with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Wednesday and Thursday, with the Buccaneers' defense standing out on the first morning and the offense putting its best foot forward on the second morning. On Saturday night, when the Buccaneers get some live action against the Jaguars in preseason Week Two, either the starting offense or the starting defense will get a little extra playing time.
That won't be a reward for either side for its performance on the practice field. Rather, it's going to come down to how the first half is wrapping up on Saturday night. Either way, all of the team's starters will get a longer look than they did in last week's preseason opener in Philadelphia.
INFO: HOW TO WATCH THE GAME
"They're going to play more tonight," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "They're going to play at least a quarter-and-a-half and possibly all the way to halftime, depending on what the two-minute situation is. That's another added benefit of working with another team – we got two really good two-minute drives against Jacksonville in Wednesday's practice. Our defense got two wins. Our first offense had a real nice drive, went right down the field and scored. So we have to decide who's going to be up for the two-minute, is it going to be offense or defense?"
That means fans tuning into the game can expect to see a larger dose of quarterback Jameis Winston, who was sharp in his 2016 debut last week, and Robert Ayers, the free agent acquisition who spurred the defense to a strong outing in Philadelphia. Wide receiver Mike Evans, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Brent Grimes should all get a bigger dose of action tonight, as well. The final allotment of snaps will be determined by game situations, as well as the heat.
"So we might leave some starters in for the end of the half two-minute drive but that will kind of depend on how many plays we have," said Koetter. "I would anticipate our starters playing about a quarter-and-a-half tonight. Of course it's going to be a very hot night so we're going to have to sub, we're going to have to rotate guys. I heard the heat index is about 102 tonight."
Three Buccaneer starters will be held out due to minor injuries: running back Doug Martin, DT Gerald McCoy and linebacker Daryl Smith. Those three might very well play through their ailments in the regular season, but their absence on Saturday night just means more snaps for players who are battling for roster spots and playing time. And that remains the primary mission in August, to figure out the best 53-man team, particularly at positions that have more untested depth.
"No team in the NFL has depth at every position," said Koetter. "While we do have depth at some positions, there are other positions that we don't and you can't address everything in one year. We were fortunate – we wanted to improve our secondary, we wanted to upgrade our pass-rush and Jason did an awesome job of doing both those things. But when I hear people say, 'Well, we need that,' or, 'We need this,' well, of course. Every team has needs and you just can't get them all. So, as a coaching staff, you've got to work with the guys you've got. You've got to find out a way to make them better."
There are some positions on the Buccaneers' depth chart that fall in between those two depth categories, with fairly obvious starters but a lot of competition to fill out the reserve roles. That's the case in the secondary, where the team added several blue-chip options at cornerback but is still trying to figure out the back end of the rotation. Saturday's game will give the Buccaneers an opportunity to further evaluate such cornerbacks as Johnthan Banks and Josh Robinson and safeties Major Wright and Ryan Smith.
"I think we've definitely improved our depth," said Koetter. "Of course when you bring in Brent Grimes in free agency and then draft Vernon Hargreaves with the first pick you've added depth. I think there's a real battle right now for the fifth corner and the fourth safety spot. You want competition at every position and we have it at a lot of positions."
The Bucs' two joint practices with their gracious Jacksonville hosts allowed for a different sort of competition, with the two teams offering each other unfamiliar looks and schemes. That was valuable for every player on the roster, but a few Buccaneers stood out and will hopefully carry that momentum into Saturday's game.
"The guy who had his best week of practice by far is Austin Seferian-Jenkins," said Koetter of the talented third-year tight end. "Cameron Brate has just been so solid and so consistent at tight end that Austin got bumped down the depth chart. A lot of guys could give up and have a bad attitude; he's hung in there. He's competed and he's had a good attitude. He's tried to get better. He had a really good day the second day of practice against Jacksonville.
"Another guy that I think fits in there is Jude. Everybody has just assumed that Hargreaves is going to win out because he's a first-round pick but Jude is a survivor. He's got a great story about the journey to make it to the NFL last year and he's not giving up without a fight. We're going to rotate those guys tonight at nickel, but those would be two guys that have hung in there.
"I think Howard Jones is another young guy that had a big sack in the two-minute drill the other day, had a sack and a quarterback hit last week in Philly. That's another guy that when he gets in there he's going to give left tackles fits because of his speed on the edge."
The Buccaneers take on the Jaguars in Week Two of the 2016 preseason on Saturday night, with kickoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET. The game will be played at EverBank Field in Jacksonville. The game will be broadcast in the Bay area on television by WFLA News Channel 8 and on radio through the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM.