Head Coach Greg Schiano confirmed on Wednesday what he said was probable the day before: rookie Mike Glennon will start the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' final preseason game at quarterback. While some of the rotation plans that Schiano and his staff have prepared for Thursday night's contest remain unknown to the players, a sub-group of starters have already received the expected news that they would be rested against Washington.
That has allowed quarterback Josh Freeman and a handful of his fellow front-liners to turn their attention to the team they will be facing in the regular-season opener in a mere 11 days.
"I'm actually not going to play Thursday night," Freeman confirmed on Wednesday. "There are a number of guys, starters, who've already moved on and started prep for the New York Jets. I think from the standpoint of training camp and preseason, I think we got a lot accomplished as an offense. Not necessarily on [preseason game days], just from the standpoint of adding pieces to our offense or from a practice standpoint. When you go out in preseason [games] you're very limited on your call list, on what you're trying to run and accomplish. I feel like we got to mix it up personnel-wise and got to see what some guys will do in a game-like situation. I definitely think this year's camp was great for me."
Thus, Freeman's 2012 preseason is capped at just 26 passes and 12 completions. However, like backfield-mate , Freeman is untroubled by his preseason stat sheet and certain he's seen the necessary progress on the practice field.
"I'm not concerned," said the fifth-year quarterback who will be making his fourth straight opening day start in Week One. "Obviously, things could've gone better in the preseason [and] I didn't take that many snaps. I feel like we've been practicing at a very high level. We're excited to make it through with everyone healthy. I know our guys, I know what kind of fight they've got in them. There's such a difference between preseason and regular season – everything's amped up. We just have to continue to work, keep our head down right now, don't let off the gas [and] just maximize the potential for each day."
Freeman threw for 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns last year in his first season under new Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan. He admits that it was a "struggle" for him and his offensive teammates to absorb a new offense last summer, and that's one of the reasons behind his confidence heading into the 2013 season. The starting offense, with all of its key pieces from 2012 still in place, has a significant head start this year in getting the attack off the ground.
"Now I feel we've got a really solid foundation as far understanding and execution in this offense," said Freeman. "I think we've made big strides as an offense, and me personally as a quarterback, and I think it's due in part to our coaching staff. I think Sullivan and [Quarterbacks Coach] John McNulty do an awesome job of really dissecting our games as quarterbacks and pinpointing areas that we need to improve on or that we really need to work on within the offense. I feel like I'm playing [well], throwing the ball, understanding what we're trying to accomplish each play, each situation. I'm definitely excited."
- Wide receiver Eric Page, who continues to stand first on the depth chart at both kick return spots, apparently will play in the preseason finale. Page is averaging 30.5 yards per kickoff return and 9.8 yards per punt return this summer, both of which would represent improvements over what the Buccaneers managed during the 2012 regular season.
"I think Page has done a good job," said Schiano on Wednesday. "Every game he's done a better job, he looks very confident back there, he looks like he belongs. Let's see, hopefully he can do it again tomorrow."
Newly-signed wide receiver Jordan Norwood might also get a shot at a return or two on Thursday night. He has a bit of NFL experience in that job, returning four punts for 35 yards (8.8-yard average) with the Cleveland Browns in 2011.
- Running back Peyton Hillis is almost sure to play on Thursday night, too, as the Buccaneers rest Martin and continue to sift through their depth at the position. Hillis saw all of his action in the second half last weekend in Miami, but he hasn't been told a specific rotation for the Washington game.
"I wish I did know," Hillis admitted on Wednesday. "You can get your mind and your heart prepared for it…but, you know, that's part of this game. I think they try to prepare us not to know so we can go out and do our best."
Hillis is actually the Buccaneers' leading rusher during the preseason with 114 yards on 29 carries, though that is only one more yard than what Brian Leonard has posted. Hillis's mark of 3.9 yards per carry this preseason is close to his career regular-season mark of 4.1 and a bit higher than the 3.6 yards per carry he has put up in limited duty over the past two years.
After two seasons each in Denver and Cleveland and one year in Kansas City, Hillis has had to learn the Buccaneers' offense quickly after signing just a few days before the start of training camp.
"I've only been here a few weeks, but in those weeks I've picked up a lot," he said. "There are always [things] here and there that you'll learn with game-plan and stuff like that, but I pretty much have it all picked up.
"I've done as much as I can possibly do. Sometimes you have to sit back and let the cards fall where they may."
- Hillis is one of several dozen players who are hoping their performances on Thursday night give the Buccaneers another reason to keep them on the roster through this weekend's "final" cuts. The Bucs will have roughly 48 hours to review the game tape and mull over their decisions, as the moves that will reduce the roster from 75 players to 53 are due by 6:00 p.m. ET on Saturday evening.
It's possible the Buccaneers will make some of those moves on Friday, much as they spread out their most recent maneuvers on Monday and Tuesday while getting down to the 75-man limit. It is also possible that Saturday's mandated cuts will not be the end of the weekend maneuvering. General Manager Mark Dominik likes to refer to the days after the cutdown to 53 as the "second draft," because it occasionally gives the team access to young players it had coveted in the most recent draft or post-draft signing period.
That's how the Buccaneers acquired guard Ted Larsen and running back LeGarrette Blount in 2010, in fact. Tight end Zack Pianalto, who was on the roster for most of the 2011 season, was picked up from Buffalo in a similar manner in 2011, and guard Cody Wallace, who is still on the team and battling for a roster spot this summer, was nabbed in that same fashion last year.
In addition, teams can occasionally plug depth chart holes during this time period with veterans who did not make it past the cuts on their former teams. The Buccaneers signed running back D.J. Ware and defensive tackle Corvey Irvin after the cutdown to 53 last year, for instance.