1. The offensive line filled out and filled in.
Four offensive tackles were held out of last night's game. Veteran Demar Dotson, who's been easing back into practice, Leonard Wester, Cole Boozer and Cole Gardner. Piecing together the line then required a little bit of shuffling right from the start. Backup center Evan Smith came in at right guard and the rookie Brad Seaton was asked to hold down the outside as the starters. But as with any first preseason game, that rotation didn't last. Fans got their first look at third-round pick Alex Cappa, who ended up playing multiple positions on the line. This patchwork quilt of trench dwellers held steady as backup quarterback Ryan Griffin engineered multiple scoring drives, including one with less than a minute and a half to go in the game with no timeouts and the Bucs down one needing a field goal to win. The performance by the offensive line was met with praise from all three quarterbacks, running backs Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones and Scott Smith.
2. That Peyton Barber/Ronald Jones II tandem.
Speaking of those running backs, the Bucs seem to have themselves that tandem they were looking for in both Peyton Barber and rookie Ronald Jones II. Both backs had touchdowns in the first half of Thursday's game. Barber got the nod with the first team and helped involve the run game early with the help of the aforementioned group of offensive linemen. He broke loose on two runs on the Bucs' first possession for nine and five yards consecutively, before finding the end zone two plays later up the middle on a four-yard run. Jones got a touchdown of his own on a handoff from quarterback Jameis Winston in the second quarter as he darted on a diagonal into the end zone for a two-yard score.
3. The Bucs' defensive line brought pressure all around.
The veteran Gerald McCoy, happy to be going up against someone other than center Ryan Jensen, managed to penetrate the Dolphins' line and sack quarterback David Fales to give Tampa Bay its first sack of the preseason. In the second quarter, defensive ends Noah Spence and Pat O'Connor came off the edge, sharing a sack of Miami quarterback Brock Osweiler. It was Spence's first game action since Week 1 of 2017 and after putting on 35 pounds in the offseason, he proved he didn't lose any of his speed. The biggest thing here is that the Bucs managed pressure from both the interior and the edge, which will keep opponents guessing.
4. JPP can and will do it all.
Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is known for his pass rush skills and ability to come off the edge to get to the quarterback. In his ninth year in the league – that's solid. What was even better to see on Thursday night was JPP's ability to stop the run and even cover the slot receiver. Miami was backed up on a holding penalty facing first-and-20. On back-to-back plays during that initial drive, Pierre-Paul brought down Dolphins' receiver Danny Amendola after he made a quick grab in the flat. Then when Miami decided to try their luck on the ground with running back Kenyan Drake, Pierre-Paul nabbed him after just four yards, bringing up third-down and 11. Miami came up empty on that first series and it seems McCoy bringing pressure inside and Pierre-Paul being able to hold down the outside had a lot to do with it.
5. Hi, Jordan Whitehead.
One of the highlights of Thursday night has to be rookie safety Jordan Whitehead. He was all over the field, playing extremely aggressively, coming up to make tackles at the line but also covering receivers in space. The Pitt product had two pass breakups Thursday night and it almost didn't happen. Early on, he got a little shaken up on his first tackle of the night but came right back in to have a great game that even earned the praise of Coach Koetter postgame. Whitehead has been consistent in practice but has been playing a majority of his snaps with the second and third teams. His aggressive play is welcomed and complements the rookie cornerbacks he was brought in with in M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis III, who both had good nights of their own.