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Takeaways from Buccaneers vs. Steelers | Preseason Week 1

Top observations from Friday’s preseason matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers

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On a steamy Friday night in Florida with a heat index of 106 at kickoff, penalties became the underlying theme that prevented the Buccaneers from hitting their stride in a 27-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the preseason opener. An eight-yard touchdown pass from Baker Mayfield to rookie Trey Palmer became the highlight of the evening at Raymond James Stadium, but it was not enough to catapult the Buccaneers to victory. During the 60-minute battle, roster hopefuls vied for roles on the Buccaneers' squad. Tampa Bay rested essentially most of their starters on Friday night, as is customary in the preseason across the NFL, except for the eventual starting quarterback. Baker Mayfield is locked in a head-to-head competitive match with third-year man Kyle Trask for the Bucs' starting quarterback job and the two dueled in the preseason debut. Here are the top observations from the August 11 contest against the Steelers: 

Quarterback Overview 

Baker Mayfield got the start against Pittsburgh, playing with an offense comprised mostly of reserves. The Bucs played without their top two receivers, their top running back and three starting offensive linemen. Mayfield completed eight of nine passes for 63 yards and one touchdown, without an interception, concluding the game with an efficient passer rating of 132.9. Kyle Trask entered the game with minutes left in the first half and played until late in the third quarter, completing six of 10 passes for 99 yards and one interception. His third pass was picked off by Steelers' Trenton Thompson. 

"[Mayfield] was composed, he did a good job of running the offense," said Head Coach Todd Bowles. "He made the plays he was supposed to make. I'm satisfied."

Mayfield put the first points on the board for Tampa Bay, connecting with Trey Palmer for an eight-yard touchdown. No. six precisely floated the ball over the outstretched fingers of Steelers' defensive back James Pierre and Palmer secured the catch and got both feet down to tie the game at seven. 

Mayfield and Trask worked with the same supporting cast on offense, providing a thorough evaluation process. In the continued battle for the role of Tom Brady's successor in Tampa Bay, Trask will get the start in next week's preseason game against the Jets, with Mayfield likely getting work with the same personnel in the team's rotational method. 

"I tried to squeeze one in there, see if I could fit one in, and they made a good play on it," said Trask of the interception versus Pittsburgh. "Other than that, I felt like I had good plays and bad plays but a lot of good learning experiences." 

Cam Gill Shines in OLB Competition 

Prior to the preseason opener, Todd Bowles vocalized that outside linebacker would be the most challenging position group to nail down final decisions as the roster is cut from 90 to 53 with the level of talent in the room. In the competition for roles behind Shaq Barrett, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Anthony Nelson, Cam Gill raised his stock on Friday. He tallied one sack and split another one. In his first live-action performance in nearly a year since suffering a season-ending Lisfranc injury in the 2022 preseason opener, he put on a show. Gill is competing with third-round pick Yaya Diaby and sixth-round pick Jose Ramirez for the remaining spots. Originally an undrafted free agent out of Wagner in 2020, Gill did enough to solidify a spot on the active roster. He spent last year rehabbing on injured reserve and got back into the fold in the Bucs' deep edge rush rotation against the Steelers. Gill played 50% of the Buccaneers snaps on Friday and made the reps count. His relentless motor and burst in pursuit flashed on the tape. 

Receiver Rundown 

Rookie Trey Palmer, second-year wideouts Deven Thompkins and Kaylon Geiger, and veteran addition David Moore received extensive playing time during the first half. Palmer's touchdown catch validated what he has shown during training camp practice over the previous two weeks. He continues to make a solid case for one of the remaining receiver spots on the depth chart behind Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Russell Gage Jr., along with second-year pro, Thompkins. Thompkins finished the 2022 season as the club's primary return specialist and got the starting gig on punts/kickoffs on Friday night. He has impressed throughout camp, making sensational acrobatic catches with his small, 5-foot-8 frame. Despite his size, Thompkins has routinely shown the ability to high-point the ball in 50/50 situations. Where Thompkins drew the eyes of onlookers last year came in the joint practices against Tennessee in one-on-ones. Next week as the Bucs battle the Jets' crew for two days of practice prior to the preseason Week Two matchup, Thompkins and Palmer will be players to keep an eye on. 

Nickel Corner Front Runner 

Many players were thrown into the mix during the offseason for the Bucs' impending slot corner battle. During Friday's matchup with Pittsburgh, one player emerged as the "front runner" per Todd Bowles, and that standout is undrafted free agent Christian Izien out of Rutgers. Izien has received nearly daily reps with the first-team nickel defense the past two weeks of training camp, reiterating the rookie's ascension. The role of a nickel corner in the NFL is a complex one, personifying the phrase "Swiss Army Knife." The responsibilities may include coming downhill to stop the run on first down, covering a running back or receiver on second down and blitzing on third down. The job encompasses a heavy workload and Izien is aware of what the position will entail, including baiting the quarterback on disguises pre-snap. Izien accumulated four interceptions, 16 passes defensed and 292 tackles across four seasons at Rutgers. He has continuously shown instinctiveness and short-area quickness in coverage, the explosiveness to blitz and range to fly around on the field. If he continues to emerge during the preseason, he could cement his place as the starting nickel corner in Tampa Bay.

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