Head Coach Bruce Arians said all week leading up to Saturday night's preseason game against the Titans that the Buccaneer starters would not play due to the physicality of joint practices between the two teams this past week. That's exactly what happened as quarterback Blaine Gabbert got the start for the Bucs' offense. Right guard Alex Cappa was part of the starting five on the offensive line, which Arians said was to get him more reps after Cappa missed the tail end of last year with a broken leg, but Arians also revealed that the competition for right guard is 'closer than you might think' between Cappa and Aaron Stinnie. It remains Cappa's job to lose, though.
Gabbert played the entire first quarter, finishing with three completions on six attempts for 33 yards. Ryan Griffin took the reins for the second quarter, completing six of 11 pass attempts for 48 yards, and then it was rookie Kyle Trask who played the entire second half for the Bucs. Trask finished with 13 completions on 26 attempts for 131 yards and two interceptions.
"It's a learning experience," Arians said after the game about Trask. "Kyle has a long time to grow."
Time isn't a luxury a lot of players trying to make the Bucs' roster have and despite the blowout loss, there were a few standouts that helped themselves a lot in the game.
"You either get exposed or exposure," said Arians. "Some guys really stepped up. Pat O'Connor showed, Grant [Stuard] showed a little bit, Dee Delaney showed a little bit. Not too many guys offensively. Cyril [Grayson] showed up a little bit having been hurt all week with an injury."
Let's start there.
1. Players who got 'exposure.'
DL Pat O'Connor
As Arians mentioned, O'Connor likely earned his right to stay on this team on Saturday night. The defensive tackle had a sack, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hit on the night, in addition to adding value on special teams. O'Connor has been with the club since 2017, playing multiple positions on the defensive line. He's managed to stick because of his varying skillset and the preseason is when he's given the opportunity to showcase it.
""These games are so important for me," O'Connor said. "Just to show how versatile I can be – from special teams, to [defensive] tackle, to nose tackle, to [defensive] end. Whatever it is – I'll play punter if they wanted me to, it doesn't matter. Just to show how versatile I can be in all aspects of the game, and just play as hard as I could – trying my best to do that. We'll see what happens – just run with it."
OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka
This wasn't a surprise by any stretch of the imagination but Tryon-Shoyinka continues to dominate when he's in the game. He finally got his first sack that counted on Titans' quarterback Matt Barkley. He added a tackle for loss and quarterback hit but he was badgering Tennessee quarterbacks all night, playing 55% of the team's defensive snaps and 39% of the team's special teams snaps. That's one aspect of his game that is maybe going a bit overlooked. As productive and exciting as he is to watch on defense, he's more than happy to put his hand in the pile on special teams – and he's flying all over the place. That will likely be a significant role for him in the regular season with Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett occupying the two starting outside linebacker spots.
"[Defensive Coordinator] Todd [Bowles] has done a great job of creating plays and creating matchups," Arians said of how they plan to utilize Tryon-Shoyinka. "The game will depend. If it's a running game, a running team, maybe not as much. If it's a passing situation he's going to play a bunch. There's situations where I could see in the future, down the road, where we have all three of them out there."
We saw that in practice a bit this week and yeah, good luck to opposing offenses trying to figure out who to block.
TE Tanner Hudson
Hudson once again led the team in receiving yards, this time catching six passes for 74 yards on the night. His longest reception was a 25-yard throw from Trask in the fourth quarter. And while it was good to see Hudson again come alive in the preseason, Arians said they're still evaluating him because 'there's more to it than just catching the ball.'
2. The 'Exposed.'
It wasn't so much any singular player as it was aspects of the game on Saturday night. The offense had just 11 first downs all night and didn't get into the end zone at all. The highest quarterback rating for the Bucs belonged to Gabbert with a 66.7, though the lack of production was hardly all on Tampa Bay signal callers.
"I think Blaine has been really, really good," said Arians. "He had great practices against [the Titans]. If we catch the ball for him, he's going to take us right down the field and score again. So I've got all the confidence in the world. 'Griff' struggled last week. He was a little bit better this week. He had a couple balls off fingertips. He can play a little better. Kyle, I really like where Kyle's at. Kyle's doing everything we ask of him. Some guys need to help him out and catch the ball, too, the guys that he's playing with and get their head around. He's making good progress."
Both picks that Trask had were on tipped balls, in fact. Guys like tight end O.J. Howard struggled early, though he came back and made a few nice catches later on.
On the other side of the ball, tackling was again not where it needed to be from the defense in the second half. You're looking at a hodge podge of third and fourth-team players who don't get a lot of reps in practice together, though. Consider that at the half, Tennessee had just eight first downs and were one-for-eight on third down conversions. Even when it was all said and done, the Bucs held the Titans to just two third-down conversions on the night and let up just 87 yards on the ground total. They held former Buccaneer Jeremy McNichols to -9 yards rushing on five attempts.
It was running back Mekhi Sargent that did most of the work on the ground, getting past Bucs defenders to get 78 yards on 16 carries. Tennessee receivers also seemed to help themselves to yards after the catch but again, most of the production came in the second half so it shouldn't be cause for too much concern heading into the season for Tampa Bay.
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's preseason matchup vs. the Titans.
3. Oh, and kicker Ryan Succop is fine.
The only points the Bucs ended up scoring were from kicker Ryan Succop, who has had an up and down camp this year. Arians spoke about it earlier saying that he had all the faith in the world Succop would figure it out by the season. It seems he didn't need that long, connecting on a 49-yarder in Saturday night's game against his former team.
It was punter Bradley Pinion that missed the 61-yard field goal attempt at the end of the game. It was something he had done in practice, according to Arians but it didn't work out in the game. But hey, that's what preseason is for though, right?