The most notable roster development to stem from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2017 preseason opener on Friday night in Cincinnati was the waiver of kicker Roberto Aguayo. However, that's probably not the last of it.
Quarterback Ryan Griffin, linebacker Devante Bond and running back Russell Hansbrough all sustained injuries during the 23-12 loss to the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. There will be some depth-chart shakeups as a result, and the anticipated battle for the primary reserve spot behind quarterback Jameis Winston is, at best, now on hold.
A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' preseason matchup with the Bengals.
According to Head Coach Dirk Koetter, who addressed the media on Saturday, Griffin suffered a shoulder sprain while being hit from behind early in the fourth quarter of Friday night's game. The severity of the injury is still being determined but Koetter expects the third-year passer to be out for a significant time, though a period measured in weeks, not months.
"It's not great news," said Koetter. "He's got an injury to his throwing shoulder. [He] had an MRI today. He's going to be out for a while. I don't know the exact medical term, [but] it's not going to require surgery. It's something that can heal, but it's just going to take some time."
Griffin's injury makes his battle with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to back up Winston less complicated but, conversely, adds difficulty to the team's long-term plans with a passer it has spent the past two years developing. Koetter said the team was just starting to explore roster options for Griffin, much of which will hinge on how long he will be sidelined. Koetter said during the offseason that the team would prefer to keep just two quarterbacks on the regular-season roster, but that keeping three would remain in consideration. As for the remainder of the training camp, Koetter said the team was in good shape with Winston, Fitzpatrick and rookie Sefo Liufau.
As for the release of Aguayo, Koetter praised the young kicker's efforts but pointed to the bottom line for a team that believes it is on the cusp of the playoffs. Veteran Nick Folk, signed in the offseason to compete with Aguayo after a rough debut season for the 2016 draft pick, now steps into a prominent position for the Buccaneers.
"Anytime you have to let a draft pick go, it's not something that you look forward to doing, but it's a production business," said Koetter. "We've been saying it – it's unfortunate because Roberto is a good kid. He is trying to do the right thing, but again, it's a production business. I'm sure he'll get another opportunity and he's just got to learn from this and move on. This allows us as a team to get behind Nick. There's pressure even in that. It will allow us, as a team, to support Nick and move forward."
Tampa Bay, which was barely edged out of the postseason field last year, ranked last in the NFL in field goal percentage in 2016. There are many factors in the team's attempt to improve on last year's 9-7 record, the kicking game being one of them. Koetter said the Bucs could not head into the season with that sort of uncertainty.
"Well, we saw what that movie was like last year," he said. "We're just not going to go that direction anymore. That doesn't mean we're not going to ever miss a field goal again or miss an extra point again – just like your offensive linemen are going to miss blocks, your quarterbacks are going to miss open receivers and you are going to miss tackles – that's part of the game. I think it's safe to say we have just seen enough in our time here – on these fields out here and the other fields that we've played [on] – that right now we feel like we need to move toward a more consistent performance in that area."
The Buccaneers will bring kickers in on Sunday for a tryout before heading out to Jacksonville for a week of joint practices. The team is expected to sign an additional kicker to add another "leg" to camp, but Koetter emphasized that, "as of right now, Nick is going to be our kicker."
Koetter didn't specify the injury to Bond, the second-year player who was the front-runner to start at strongside linebacker. Bond underwent an MRI exam on Saturday and Koetter expects him to be out for a while. It's a tough blow for a 2016 draft pick who spent his rookie season on injured reserve due to a hamstring issue. Rookie linebacker Kendell Beckwith now moves to the top of the depth chart at the SAM position, although Koetter indicated that Beckwith will still also train at middle linebacker. The third-round draft pick out of LSU could end up seeing playing time both at SAM and as a situational rusher in sub packages.
Koetter said that Hansbrough, a second-year running back, is in the NFL's concussion protocol. He is not expected to play on Thursday in the second preseason game in Jacksonville. The Buccaneers will also be without cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah, who recently sustained a non-contract knee injury in practice. Adjei-Barimah will have surgery on Sunday and Koetter expects to have a better feel for the young cornerback's status within a couple days.
"It's unfortunate for Jude," said Koetter. "It's the same injury that he had last year. They tried – his rehab and we thought he was past it. Again, it's an unfortunate part of the game for him. It wasn't even really much of a contact injury when it happened here this second time and it's just unfortunate for him."
Every NFL injury is, of course, unfortunate. The Buccaneers have actually enjoyed relatively good fortune in terms of player health through the first two weeks of training camp, but the preseason opener unsurprisingly added a few issues to the docket. Koetter and General Manager Jason Licht will be sculpting the roster in the weeks to come, and Friday's game offered some direction in that process, for better or worse.
"We're going to get together – Jason [and I] – we'll get together and find out, pick out the best 53 that we think can help our team," said Koetter. "We've got projected numbers but special teams will come into play, injuries certainly will come into play there. And sometimes you're going to steal one from one position because you feel like you need to keep one at another position and that's what training camp is all about."