In the battle of reserves that kicked off the Buccaneers' 2022 preseason slate, several players put up strong performances on turf. During the 60-minute competitive battle, roster hopefuls vied for rotational roles. Tampa Bay rested essentially all of their starters on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium as is customary in the preseason around the league, which provided reps for those striving to make the final 53 cutdown. Here are the top takeaways from the Bucs' preseason opener.
Outside Linebackers Put on a Show
Under the Saturday night lights to the delight of a red sea at Raymond James Stadium, outside linebackers Cam Gill and Anthony Nelson spearheaded the defensive effort. Each registered a sack and two tackles for loss (tying for the team lead), adding constant penetration in the backfield during the first half of the ballgame. Both names seemed to be in on nearly every tackle, firing off blocks in pursuit of the ball carrier/quarterback.
In the first quarter, after tackling Sony Michel in the backfield for a loss of three yards from first and goal, Gill sacked Skylar Thompson two plays later for a loss of six yards, which forced Miami to kick a field goal. He stalled the drive for the Dolphins, garnering praise from Head Coach Todd Bowles.
"Cam [Gill] has been the ultimate professional," Bowles stated. "Every year he's got something different from it that he learned the year before that he added to his game. When he first got here, he was strictly power and he didn't know how to play – his technique has gotten better, his awareness has gotten better, his drops have gotten better and he's still a tenacious rusher – and we don't mind putting him in there. We don't feel like we lose anything when he goes into the ball game. He's become very trustworthy."
His counterpart, Anthony Nelson, continued the trend in the second quarter in a similar turn of events. From first and ten at the Tampa Bay 28-yard line, Nelson stifled the run and immediately tackled Salvon Ahmed for a loss of three yards, stopping him in his tracks. A couple plays later, the Dolphins lined up in a shotgun formation. Nelson sacked Thompson for a loss of ten yards on third down, forcing the Dolphins to settle for a field goal on the drive. Both caught the eye of Bowles, who praised No. 98 during his day-after-game media availability.
"Nelson is a good player. I mean he stepped up last year and had a bunch of sacks. He is the only player I've seen come out of college – watching his tape in college and pro – that has never fell for a bootleg. That says a lot about a guy. He has great vision and great intelligence. He doesn't look muscular and everything, but he is very strong. He knows how to play; he is very savvy and he is a big part of what we are doing. We don't have a problem when Shaq [Barrett] or Joe [Tryon-Shoyinka] go out because Nelson and Cam [Gill] can play just as well. I thought last year was important for him to get a lot of reps. He's a quiet guy, but he understands football and we depend on him."
Both will be players to watch as the Buccaneers hit the road to take on the Tennessee Titans in preseason Week 2.
Receivers Stepped Up
Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Russell Gage and Julio Jones were awarded the night off on Saturday. In their absence, several stepped up for the occasion. Third-year pro Tyler Johnson led the Bucs with six catches for 73 yards (career preseason marks) while undrafted rookies Kaylon Geiger and Jerreth Sterns recorded four catches each for 52 and 51 yards, respectively. Sterns hauled in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Trask with 7:55 on the clock in the third quarter, helping Tampa Bay climb out of a nine-point deficit.
On the second offensive drive of the ballgame, Tyler Johnson made his mark, catching an underneath pass as he made several defenders miss. He bounced to the outside with shifty moves and two plays later, Johnson made a leaping grab in traffic down the sideline for a gain of 21 yards.
Then, in the third period, it was Kaylon Geiger's turn to draw the attention of the crowd. A 19-yard pitch from Trask to Geiger set up a Jose Borregales field goal. On the play, Geiger utilized a lethal spin move to get around the edge for a 19-yard gain. A 54-yard field goal put the Buccaneers up with four minutes left in the quarter. All three were awarded with praise by Bowles following the clash.
"[Jerreth] Sterns and [Kaylon] Geiger [Sr.] both showed up," Bowles said. "Tyler [Johnson] showed up in the first half – those guys can play. Like I said, we have a lot of tough decisions at receiver. [Sterns] can play. He caught a lot of balls in college and when the lights came on, he turned it on, Geiger turned it on, Tyler turned it on. There's a lot of good film to watch."
The coaching staff will have a tough decision to make regarding the club's fifth and sixth receiver spots to round out the depth chart. Production in the next two preseason games will dictate who cements a spot.
Kyle Trask had a Solid Outing
Blaine Gabbert began the ballgame and looked poised in the pocket. At the helm, Gabbert commanded two drives, with the second culminating in a 72-yard march down the field that ended in a touchdown. He went five-for-five for 56 yards. Enter Kyle Trask. Trask, the Buccaneers' second-round pick in 2021, compiled a predominately solid outing. He completed 25 of 33 passes for 258 yards, one touchdown and one interception for an overall 95.3 passer rating. Trask's interception and lost fumble in the final two minutes of the first half shifted the momentum to the Dolphins, who capitalized with a touchdown. Overall, Bowles was pleased with Trask's performance.
"It's a lot about the development of what he's learned and seeing what we have," Bowles elaborated. "We hadn't seen him under pressure. We hadn't seen him get knocked down and throw an incomplete pass and get up. We hadn't seen him throw an interception [and] we hadn't seen him throw a touchdown in a preseason game to date, other than practice. It was more about what kind of moxie he had out on the field and what kind of control he had on the field, whether he would panic in different situations or whether he would do the right thing. He passed a lot of those tests, so he'll get more of it next week. I can't say it will be 80 or 75 [percent of the snaps] or whatever the case may be, but he will play a lot and the development is important for him. He didn't get as many snaps last year, so we really want to see what we have. I know what Blaine [Gabbert] can do, I know what 'Griff' (Ryan Griffin) can do – I want to see what Kyle can do."
The next two games will be Trask's audition for a future role and the potential answer to a long-term perplexing quarterback debate.