Ready or not, the 2019 pre-season is upon us, and the Buccaneers will be in Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers on Friday night.
Bruce Arians and the coaching staff want to see lots of improvement on the defensive side of the ball and with Todd Bowles calling the defensive plays, and we may see more blitzes in a pre-season game than we have ever seen before in Tampa.
Bowles loves to bring the pressure, and the linebackers and defensive backs will all be involved in applying that pressure on Friday night.
There are five questions that the Bucs will need to answer so we can know more about this team going into 2019.
1. Is this group of defensive backs with the new aggressive man to man scheme going to be able to cover and lock down opposing wide receivers?
Last year’s pass defense was an absolute disgrace. Opposing teams were licking their chops, eager to go against these young defensive backs. In training camp and OTAs, this group, led by 25-year-old veteran Vernon Hargreaves and Carlton Davis, have shown a lot of improvement in their ability to cover and in their overall aggressiveness and ability to make plays.
Jamel Dean, Mike Edwards, and free agent D’cota Dixon will not make the trip so Bucs fans will have to wait at least another week for their pre-season debut.
2. Can Ronald Jones do in a game what he has been doing in practice?
Jones has looked very good in camp both running the ball and catching the ball out of the backfield. While he put on about 15 pounds during the off-season and will play right around 220 this season, he has a lot of confidence going into his second season and seems to have finally figured out the NFL game.
The Bucs are counting on Jones to be a major player in the running game and as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield.
3. How will the offensive line perform?
The Bucs did nothing to upgrade the offensive line, except to pay a ton of money to Donovan Smith. The Bucs were one of the worst run-blocking teams in the NFL last season and will try to get better with second-year right guard Alex Cappa penciled in as the starter.
4. Will we see a new and improved Jameis Winston?
Bruce Arians has worked with Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, and Carson Palmer in the past. He took the games of these quarterbacks and made them even better. Winston needs to show more composure, make better reads, and not turn the ball over. The Bucs will use wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs as receivers so Winston will have plenty of options to throw to.
5. Cairo Santos or Matt Gay?
The kicking competition is really even right now. Both kickers have had a very good camp so far, with Gay making kicks from 55 to 60 yards and even kicking a 62-yarder to end practice last week. Santos has been more consistent, but Gay has the stronger leg. Plus, the Bucs spent a fifth-round draft pick on him. This competition is far from over and will come down to the last pre-season game.
The offense needs to get a few good drives under their belt early. The offense needs to end those drives scoring touchdowns, not field goals. The defense, meanwhile, needs to get some stops early to gain some confidence and set the tone early on.
The following players will not travel to Friday’s game: CB Jamel Dean, DL Vita Vea, ILB Jack Cichy, ILB Lavonte David, S D’Cota Dixon, OLB Anthony Nelson, WR Scotty Miller, WR K.J. Brent, TE Scott Orndoff, QB Nick Fitzgerald, and S Justin Evans.
Most of these guys are battling some sort of nagging injuries. David will be out the rest of training camp. Vea may miss a couple of weeks depending on the MRI results on his right knee on Friday.
Arians will give the bulk of the playing time to the young guys as they look to develop some depth, especially on the offensive line.
The battle for the last running back position between Dare Ogunbowale and Bruce Anderson will be interesting to watch. Ogunbowale has the upper hand right now and will get some chances in returning kicks.