There's no question that Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith is disappointed with the way his team played on Saturday night. The Bucs struggled in their third preseason game before falling, 31-7, to the Browns at home.
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"We're a better football team than that," Smith said. "Again, all three phases did what they were supposed to last week. They didn't do that this week. Offensively, protection wasn't as good as it needed to be… has to be. In the passing game, Jameis, of course, would like to have a couple of throws back. Doug Martin did some good things again when he got an opportunity to. Credit to the Browns, as I said last night, a lot of credit to them on how they played us."
Photos from the Buccaneers' preseason game against the Browns at Raymond James Stadium.
The play of the offensive line was a particular concern of Smith's. The Bucs gave up six sacks, four of which came against the first team. Following the game, Winston took blame for part of the Bucs' struggles, saying he could have aligned the team in better protections. But Coach Smith said the issue wasn't necessarily assignment-related.
"The problems I have were when we knew who to block and we did not," Smith said. "And it always comes down to that. Defenses are going to have good plays at time. They may have you out-numbered, but you have a plan in place when that happens. You have built-in things that take care of that. It was our execution. Our execution, of course, is when you know who you're blocking. We didn't get it done. Sometimes I think it's as simple as that. We just didn't get it done blocking."
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The Bucs now are tasked, for the second time in as many weeks, with preparing for a game on a short week. The team takes the field for their final preseason game on Thursday night against the Dolphins in Miami and although Coach Smith wouldn't definitely say how much, if at all, his starters would play, the fourth preseason game is usually an opportunity for young players to see the field for an extended period of time.
So this game, Smith said, is of the utmost importance to a handful of Buccaneers. The team will cut down their roster from 90 players to 75 players this week. Thursday's game is the last opportunity for players on the roster bubble to make a case for why they deserve a spot on the 53-man roster.
"The fourth preseason game, traditionally, I always looked at it like there are a few players getting close to putting that 53-man roster together," Smith said. "Of course we'll get down to 75 in a day or so. But that game and right at the end, that's what you look for in that last game – one final look for some of the positions that there's a little uncertainty as to which direction you need to go. For the players, (it's) one more opportunity to prove that you belong on the team. Show us what you have. So you can get an awul lot done. It's about that whole 53-man roster, not just the starters or the guys you know you're going to have on the football team, so that's what you're looking for. This is a big week for us, a big week of practice, too."
Can an under-the-radar player do enough during those 60 minutes to justify a roster spot?
"Every year I say the same thing – yes," Smith said. "It does happen. Without me, of course, giving names, yes. Guys get an opportunity and they know it. Sometimes when you come down to that final strike you hit a home run and we're looking for that. You have an idea about the group of guys that it might come from, some of the young guys that haven't really gotten an opportunity to get a whole lot of reps – they're going to get those this week."
Those players will find out if they made a big enough impact to earn a spot on the roster by this time next week. Final cuts will be announced next Saturday, September 5th.