The competition is heating up. To the average fan, who isn’t a football nerd, preseason games are a carbon copy of the previous week’s meaningless matchup. But diehard fans, who live and breathe the pigskin, see a critical game with a lot on the line for key backups and a few reserves.
Here’s a little bit of what you can expect when the Buccaneers play the Dolphins Friday night:
Winston and Krewe
Jameis Winston and his offense will play just long enough to keep us wanting more. But you’ll have to wait until next week’s “dress rehearsal”. It’s going to be difficult for coach Arians, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, and company to improve upon the near-perfect drive they scripted last week. With protection from his line, Winston looked poised and connected with his sure-hand receivers on all but one throw, and backs fought their way through defenders for gains.
The first points last week were from Winston to Godwin. I’m predicting this time around that the first touchdown will be from 2nd or 3rd-and-goal. Jaboo will hand it off to Andre Ellington who forces his way up the middle for the score. And the crowd goes wild!
Changes From Week One
Starting skill players (Winston and first-team wide receivers and running backs) only stayed in for a series Week 1. They will get increased concentrated playtime reps against Miami. Key backups, i.e., non-starters with legit chances of making the team or remaining at cutdown, will also see more concentrated playtime.
Behind the key backups are players referred to as “down the line reserves”. Those who play less often than they did last week, and there are typically 20-25, fall under that category. The bulk of action down the line reserves will see is in Week 4, for the obvious reason of not wanting to further risk injury to starters or key backups.
The guys who most likely won’t make the team will be warming the bench more this week and even more next week. So, if they’re on the bench a lot… guess what? We’ll be seeing their numbers called often game 4 versus the Dallas Cowboys because you know we won’t be seeing starters.
The Heat It On
Especially as it pertains to backups, with each preseason game leading up to August 31 roster cuts, the competition gets a little more heated.
Backups will be seeking self-improvement; putting themselves in position to make the team. All week, they’ve had their nose to the grindstone trying to make a case for themselves. Backups and at-risk players have been studying harder, practicing harder, getting the most out of every rep. They’ve been listening more and taking coaching better. For many of them, game 2 is their last chance; there are limited live-action opportunities they have after Friday to do so. You’d better believe that by game 3 few positions, if any, are still up for grabs.
What Coaches Want
For coaches, preseason is a lot about refinement. Arians and his staff want to see what comes of their refinements to packages and positions. They want to see where key backups are going to fit, especially if new to the team. They’re closely observing which reserves can help them in which situations, e.g., nickel, multiple wideout sets. Coaches will shift around the positional alignment of the offensive and defensive line. They want to see more throws to backups who are fighting for spots, such as the third-down or short-yardage running back(s).
Otherwise, with exhibition game two, the coaches want to see their starters having rhythm with one another. Flow will be critical to winning games in the regular season, so the Bucs had better get it together. Because in just 23 short days the true battle begins.