Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Miami Dolphins: Bucs Preseason Week 2 Preview
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith spent most of this week stressing patience. Judging by the team's performance in their first preseason game last week, Bucs fans may need it in copious amounts.
Smith's first practice game as the Bucs' new head honcho did little to dispel fears about his previous inability to put a successful offense on the field, as Tampa Bay fell to the Jaguars 16-10 in Jacksonville last Friday night. Many questions about the Bucs' interior line play were answered but not in a positive way, as the team struggled to protect the quarterback and didn't make much room for their backs.
But Smith's reputation for building a strong defense showed through, as the Bucs' first unit looked particularly formidable early on, albeit against one of the worst teams the league saw last year.
As with most teams in their first game action, penalties were plentiful for Tampa Bay all night, negating multiple big plays.
But again, Smith continues to ask for patience as he presides over a massive overhaul, reminding everyone that there's plenty of time before Week 1, according to ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas:
Most of you want us to have everything in place the first preseason game. It doesn’t happen like that. Be patient. We’re going to look at some different combinations. We’re not going to get fined if we don’t name the starting guards tomorrow. This is our plan that we have in place. We’re going to let the guys compete on the field, and once someone shows us they’re ready for that I’ll let you know.
Patience is all well and good, but Bucs fans will want to see progress in the team's home opener on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET against the Miami Dolphins, especially on offense. Cleaning up penalties and giving the quarterbacks enough time to utilize some of their new weapons should be a major priority.
Bucs Preseason Week 1 Recap
The Bucs were a 4-12 team a year ago and underwent a house-cleaning from personnel to coaching to overhauling half their roster. All of these things were painfully evident in last week's 16-10 loss on the road to the Jaguars.
Behind a porous offensive line, the Bucs managed just 249 yards of total offense on the night, finding the end zone just once against a Jacksonville team that was 3-13 last season. Tampa Bay quarterbacks completed just 50 percent of their passes, and the team was an anemic 4-of-15 on third-down conversions.
Defensively, the Bucs were able to hold the Jags to a similar offensive performance, as the home team tallied a mere 264 total yards and went just 3-of-13 on third downs.
Head coach Lovie Smith has preached the importance of the turnover battle from Day 1, but the Bucs gave the ball away twice and didn't register a takeaway of their own all night.
The Bucs had a few bright spots throughout the night, but penalties wiped out multiple big plays. Two rookies flashed their playmaking ability on offense, with both Charles Sims and Austin Seferian-Jenkins making impressive plays in their first NFL game action. Seferian-Jenkins has continued to impress with a strong week of practice, but Sims will be sidelined for this week's game thanks to a sprained ankle.
The biggest concern for Bucs fans all offseason has been the play of the guards, and their fears were confirmed with last week's performance. Improved play up front will be vital to moving the team closer to the high expectations that have accompanied the offseason overhaul.
News and Notes
Changing of the Guards
After last week's horrible performance, the Bucs did some shuffling at the guard position. Jace Daniels has taken over Jamon Meredith's starting spot, and he should get the start against Miami this week. Meredith is currently out of the mix at guard and will be working at his old tackle position, according to Roy Cummings of The Tampa Tribune:
Meredith spent most of the first two weeks of training camp playing guard with the first team and he started at right guard on Friday, but his days as a starting guard for this team might be over.
Though there is a chance he could return not only to the guard position but also to the starting lineup, Meredith’s job—at least for the foreseeable future—is to prepare for a season spent playing backup tackle.
Tampa Bay has been looking for the right combination at guard for all of training camp and definitely hasn't found it yet. Daniels will get a crack at the starting gig this week, but keep an eye on rookie fifth-rounder Kadeem Edwards and Patrick Omameh.
After recovering from offseason foot surgery, safety Dashon Goldson is scheduled to make his preseason debut in this week's game.
The hard-hitting Goldson says he's feeling good but has also been impressed with how the Bucs' reserve safeties have played in his absence, per Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com:
Due to the guys that are banged up, I think the guys have been stepping up big time. We’ve got a lot of young guys doing a lot of things for us, especially in the game. It’s preseason, it’s for a lot of guys to show what they got or what they can bring to the table. I think the young guys stepped up, they played well. They still have to iron out a couple of things and I think we’re on a good track right now.
Look for the Bucs to continue taking it slow with Goldson, but his availability for this game shows he should be ready to go full tilt when Week 1 rolls around.
Though much ado was made about many of the Bucs' new acquisitions this offseason, fans didn't get to see much of them in the team's first preseason game. According to Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com, that should change this week: "(Lovie) Smith said the starters will play into the second quarter Saturday night. He said it's likely the starters will get double the amount of snaps they did in the preseason opener against Jacksonville."
Preseason games are always about balancing the need to get reps for your starters with trying to minimize the risk of injuries to your most valuable players. It looks like Smith recognizes the need for the team's starting unit to build some chemistry and find a rhythm in a game atmosphere, despite the increased chance of injury.
All injury statuses courtest of The Sun-Sentinel.
The Bucs will be missing a few key players, one of them for an extended period of time.
Two of the team's top three corners will be sidelined against Miami, as both Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins are nursing hamstring injuries. Missing both of them could lead to an early advantage for the Dolphins, as the depth at the corner position will be tested by Miami's best receivers. Two more corners show up on the injury report, as well, with Rashaan Melvin and Keith Lewis both dealing with ankle injuries.
Tampa Bay fans might be concerned about the prolonged absence of Verner and Jenkins, but hamstring injuries can be tricky, so the team must remain patient while focusing on getting its best players healthy for the regular season.
Rookie running back Charles Sims has shown flashes of playmaking ability throughout training camp, but he won't get a chance to shine for the majority of his rookie season. The third-rounder from West Virginia suffered an ankle injury during Tuesday's practice, and the news came down yesterday that Sims will undergo surgery that will put him out for 12-14 weeks.
The Bucs' depth chart is stacked at running back, with Doug Martin entrenched as the starter and Bobby Rainey currently holding the backup spot. Sims has been third in the pecking order up to this point, with Mike James and Jeff Demps fighting to earn a roster spot as perhaps the final back. Sims' absence could open the door for both James and Demps to make the roster, and they should each get a chance to make a statement tonight.
Steven Means has been one of the stars of training camp so far, but he's missed practice time this week with a groin injury.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Bucs' Pass Rush vs. Dolphins' Offensive Line
It's no secret the Bucs' Tampa 2 defense is predicated on getting consistent pressure with their front four. This unit got off to a strong start last week against the Jags and should be in line for another advantageous matchup this week against a porous Miami front line.
Gerald McCoy spent plenty of time in Jacksonville's backfield last week, but look for this week's star to be big-money free agent Michael Johnson, who should have a field day off the edge against Miami's struggling tackles.
Bucs' Guards vs. Dolphins' Interior Defensive Line
Tampa Bay's offensive line struggled as a whole last week, but the guard play was particularly atrocious. The team has played musical chairs with the starting spots throughout camp, and this week has been no exception, with Jace Daniels taking over Jamon Meredith's spot on the first team.
Meredith will now be working at tackle, where he has previous experience, meaning that more reps will go to the likes of Kadeem Edwards and Patrick Omameh, as well as current starter Oniel Cousins. If the Bucs want to have more success offensively, they need to see a vast improvement in this matchup over last week's effort.
Bucs' Big Receivers vs. Dolphins' Defensive Backs
If Josh McCown has the time, he should be able to make use of the extreme size advantage his receiving corps has on Miami's secondary. Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins are all 6'5", as is camp standout Tommy Streeter.
Miami's starting corners—Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan—are listed at 5'10", and only two corners on the entire roster are listed taller than 5'11". If the Bucs' protection holds up, look for them to try and exploit these matchups for a majority of the night.
X-Factor of the Week: TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Thanks to the Pac 12's academic policies, as well as offseason foot surgery, the Bucs' second-round pick has been playing catch-up for the majority of training camp. But as he's started to get on the page mentally as the rest of the offense, his rare combination of size and athleticism has helped him become the recent star of camp.
The Washington product had a long catch-and-run wiped out by a holding call last week, but he's continued to flash the same big-play ability in practice all week. Look for him to create mismatches in the passing game this week and make multiple impact plays.
The Bucs would love to see significant improvement from the first-team offense, but that might not have a huge bearing on the scoreboard when the clock reads all zeroes.
Tampa Bay's strength up front should dominate the Dolphins' poor offensive line, making it difficult for the Bucs' opponent to put points on the board for the second straight week. But Tampa Bay's offense has to do its part, which is where backup quarterback Mike Glennon could have a sizable impact on the final score. Glennon has been impressive in camp and should be in a good position to turn in a solid performance against Miami's second-team defense.
This game could look too much like last week's effort for Bucs fans to stomach, but expect Lovie Smith's crew to cut down on the penalties and feel a bit more comfortable with another week of preparation and playing in front of a home crowd. A couple of big plays that don't get called back could be the difference and lead to a Tampa Bay win.
Prediction: Bucs 20, Dolphins 13