The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have eight sacks through their first two preseason games of 2011, and that's not bad. Were this the regular season, an average of four sacks per outing would be quite welcome for a franchise that clearly made it a top goal to improve its pass rush.
The Buccaneers also have a little over 100 rushing yards per game on the offensive side of the ball, and that's relatively encouraging, too. Tampa Bay intends to build its attack around a power rushing game in 2011, so any early signs of life in that area are welcome.
But it is just the preseason, and that means nothing has really been proven yet. The Buccaneers looked great in an opening shutout of Kansas City, and overmatched (perhaps in large part due to differences in game-planning) in a Week Two loss to New England. Little has happened to give any real indication of how well things will go once the games that count begin after Labor Day.
Game Three of the 2011 preseason won't prove anything, either. However, given the fact that both the Buccaneers and their opponent, the Miami Dolphins, are expected to keep their starters in the mix at least through the entire first half, the evidence on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium might be a little bit more substantial.
And if there's anywhere the Bucs would like to see evidence of greatness, it's in those areas mentioned above. It is those areas controlled in large part by the big men up front.
"That's where it starts," said Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris before Saturday's game. "You've got to begin there, you've got to get better there. Hopefully we can come out tonight and display greatness up front on both sides of the ball. These guys are eager and ready to go."
The Bucs' two front lines are about as different as two units can get on the Bucs' current roster, which is dominated by youth in almost all areas. The defensive line is definitely young, and it has been rebuilt in a massive way in the last 48 months. The Bucs' four first and second-round picks in 2010 and 2011 were all spent on defensive linemen – DTs Gerald McCoy and Brian Price and DEs Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers. The offensive line, on the other hand, represents the other half of the Bucs' build-and-re-sign philosophy, as starters Davin Joseph, Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood are all veterans who have been recently re-upped.
Morris is looking for that experienced bunch to lead the offense in 2011…and more immediately on Saturday night against the Dolphins.
"They're really a bunch of grown men over there on that side of the ball," said Morris. "What they're going to do is play physical and out-physical their opponent. They're sharp on the details, they're smart, they're quick, they're fast, they're tough. They've got all the qualities of a great offensive line and we're looking for those guys to really take the next step this year and become a dominant offensive line like they can be and they should be in this league."
If the offensive line can pave the way, the Buccaneers' offense could take things to a different level on Saturday night, thanks to the return of two key elements to the passing attack. After sitting out the first half of the preseason, tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Arrelious Benn are expected to make their debuts against Miami. Winslow and Benn have an ability to stretch the defense that the Bucs might have been lacking so far.
"We're just a different offense with those guys on the field," said Morris. "We're faster, we're more explosive. To get a guy like Rejus [Benn] who provides us with great speed on the outside, great speed on the edge, great power, is exciting. To get Kellen Winslow, who might be the fastest in the National Football League, is awesome. To get those guys back makes us a faster, more explosive offense and that's what we want."
Winslow and Benn are two of five Bucs who will make their first preseason appearance on Saturday night. Second-year defensive tackle Brian Price, rookie tight end Luke Stocker and second-year cornerback Myron Lewis are also likely to see action. Starting left cornerback Aqib Talib will sit out another game due to his hamstring tweak.
Price, in particular, has overcome a lot of physical obstacles to return to the field. He has returned from two serious hamstring surgeries and could see 20-30 snaps against the Dolphins as an interior pass-rush specialist.
"He's really eager to silence his critics," said Morris of Price. "I can see the smile coming back to his face. I can see the quick-twitch that he had before he got hurt, the injury that he overcame. Really, the fans don't even understand how tough it must have been for him to overcome that injury. To come back, to be able to show those guys tonight…I'm looking for big things out of him, and for him to be excited and play well."
The Bucs are hoping for big things overall on Saturday night, as the preseason reaches its peak moment. Fans will enjoy a much longer look at the players they will be cheering on all season on Saturday, and that should make for a very good show.
"You'd like to see them the whole first half," said Morris of his starting crews. "You never know what's going to happen in a game. You might even see them a little bit in the third quarter. We'll get out there and get a little feel for it. We're excited to see these guys play an extensive amount of time today.
The Bucs and Dolphins kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET. Buccaneers.com will post an update of the first-half action during halftime and a detailed game report after the final whistle. In addition, Gene Deckerhoff and Dave Moore of the Buccaneers Radio Network will provide a wrap-up of the action on video after the game.