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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Roster Health a Key Concern on Friday

Camp Notes: Tampa Bay's starters will play into the second half against Cleveland, but the desire to field a healthy team on Sept. 11 will inform some playtime decisions…And other notes.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers practiced on Wednesday with one eye on their preseason contest with the Cleveland Browns, which is just two days away. The other eye was on September 11, and even though that is 18 days away, the countdown clock to the game on that date seems far more significant.

The Bucs and Browns will meet in the third week of the preseason (after also practicing together on Tuesday and Wednesday) and that makes it the best showcase for each team's starters. Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter, for instance, plans to play his first-team units into the third quarter, which allows for a test run on making halftime adjustments. However, some existing injuries could lead to tweaks in the lineup, and the desire to avoid any new health concerns could impact specific playtime decisions.

"More than anything I want to come out of it healthy," said Koetter. "We can say all we want about these preseason games, but just in the last couple days we get some guys nicked up and the bottom line is it's 18 days until Atlanta. And we've got to worry about having the best 46 guys we can out there on September 11. So that's the number one thing. And then after that you just want as crisp of execution as you can get. But again, we're going to be mixing [and] matching lineups based on trying to protect guys' health."

A prime example is the Buccaneers' offensive line, which has been thinned somewhat by injuries. Guard J.R. Sweezy remains on the physically unable to perform list and rookie lineman Caleb Benenoch just returned to a limited role in practice on Wednesday after missing several weeks. In addition, starting right guard Ali Marpet was held out of practice with an apparent foot injury on Wednesday and thus might not be able to play on Friday.

The Bucs have just a short time left to identify the right group of offensive linemen to keep on the 53-man roster, and the best five-man line to start on Sundays. That includes determining whether the starting center job will go to Joe Hawley or Evan Smith; however, the injury issues described above complicate the matter as the team has to turn to some different combinations on Friday.

"Right now, again, we're cross-training guys, so with our guard situation today, Evan had to play primarily at guard today," said Koetter. "Both Joe and Evan are good football players, they're both going to help our team. And then how it ends up on the 11th is going to somewhat depend on health at other positions."

  • If the idea of using tablets to watch game video on the sidelines comes up for a league vote next offseason, Koetter already knows which side he will be supporting.

The Buccaneers were not one of the team's that got an opportunity to try out sideline video last preseason, when the idea was tested in a few select games. Thus Koetter, who was the Buccaneers' offensive coordinator last year, didn't have a strong opinion on the matter during discussions of the topic this past offseason. The NFL eventually decided to test it out with all teams in the preseason but not to use it in the regular season. Koetter hopes they expand the idea to the games that count in 2017.

"Yeah, that would be great," he said. But again, it's not going to happen this year, it got voted down. I'll definitely have an opinion next time they ask and we would be in favor of it."

Koetter is sold on the idea after just two games and he and his staff will get a chance to use the tablets in home games the next two weeks. Fortunately, even when that option goes away, there will be a much greater opportunity to view replays in Raymond James Stadium this year thanks to the installation of massive new high-definition videoboards.

"Those things are very helpful," said Koetter of the big screens. "Now in the preseason of course, they're letting us demo these Surface tablets where every play is on video, it's been awesome to see them. You're watching the whole game in between [plays], but in the real season you don't have those, you just have the still pictures. So those videoboards, you definitely look up there to see what happened. You learn a lot."

  • The Buccaneers and Browns took turns running two-minute drills in the penultimate period of Wednesday's practice, with each team's first and second-team offenses going against the other team's corresponding defenses.

Last week in Jacksonville, the sharp scoring drive by the Bucs' starting offense, led by quarterback Jameis Winston, was the highlight of the teams' two practices with the Jaguars. On Wednesday, none of the four drives resulted in points, though it should be noted that it was a particularly tough theoretical situation: 1:20 on the clock, starting from the opposite 40 and down by four points, meaning a field goal would do no good.

The most effective drive of the four came when Mike Glennon and the Buccaneers' second-string offense faced the Browns' second-team defense. Glennon started the drive with four straight completions to wide receiver Donteea Dye, which got the ball inside the Browns' 20. After that, the drive devolved into a string of penalties against both sides, with the Cleveland defense twice committing holding on Buccaneer receivers, setting up final untimed downs.

It was not a success for the Buccaneers' offense, but it was a good sequence for Dye, the second-year player who is part of a crowded battle for the last couple positions on Tampa Bay's receiving depth chart. Dye also caught a "touchdown" pass on a sharp pass from Winston during a practice-ending 7-on-7 red zone period.

"Well, he's battling," said Koetter, who has also praised Dye for his 31-yard kickoff return in last Saturday's game in Jacksonville." And you can see, not only his work at wide receiver, but he's doing good things on special teams. And when you're talking about your fourth and fifth wideouts, they've got to play on special teams as well, so he's making a good case."

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