Yes, it’s the first preseason game of the year, but it’s really hard to refrain from feeling excited about Saturday’s matchup between the Bucs and the Bengals.
Bruce Arians recently said that “everyone will play” against the Bengals, but we know the starters will see limited action. Therefore, this week’s Bucs To Watch will consist of the backups, third-stringers, etc..
So, which Bucs should you watch closely on Saturday? Take a look below and find out.
5. QB Kyle Trask
Trask probably won’t take the field until late in the game, but his reps will be important to monitor. Especially when you consider the competition he will face. The Bengals will likely have their third-stringers and less in at this point in the game. It won’t be a very good sign if he struggles against the lower levels of an opposing roster.
The good news is Trask had a really good day of practice on Wednesday. Bruce Arians even felt the need to point out how well he performed.
“He was outstanding in every snap he had today,” Arians said when asked about Trask’s progress. Got the ball out of his hands. The last one was probably his only – it wasn’t even a bad throw, there wasn’t anybody open. Fundamentally, he’s really getting better, and I like where he’s at.”
If it weren’t for Trask being a second-round pick and the (hopeful) heir apparent to Tom Brady, he probably wouldn’t make this list. Also, when you throw in the fact that he’s been very off-and-on during camp, it makes him almost a must-watch if you’re a Bucs fan.
4. OL Nick Leverett
Leverett has really gained some traction over the last week of camp. He’s received numerous compliments from his coaching staff and teammates. Many who cover the team in person have noticed his play, as well. Leverett is listed at guard, but the Bucs have played him at tackle recently and have been impressed there, as well.
“His body doesn’t say he’s a tackle, but his effort does,” Arians said after this past Saturday’s practice. “He’s playing really, really well out there.”
And the key factor with Leverett is he’s not just performing well against the Bucs backups, he’s also holding down his own against the starters. And on a rather consistent basis, too.
Nick Leverett continues to impress in training camp. Just handled JPP extremely well.
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) August 10, 2021
The Bucs pretty much have the required eight offensive line spots figured out, so figuring out who the ninth is the real challenge. Leverett has a great chance to show the Bucs what he’s worth against some pretty good backups for the Bengals.
3. RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn
Vaughn should see a ton of action when the Bucs take on the Bengals Saturday night and he should see a ton of action throughout the entire preseason. But that’s another topic of discussion for another day.
Regardless, out of all of Tampa Bay’s running backs, Vaughn has the most to prove. He hasn’t graced a football field since his ungraceful fumble against the Washington Football Team. You know that has to leave a sour taste in his mouth.
But more importantly, Vaughn has shown that he’s a much improved player throughout camp. He’s ran and caught the ball well and he looks improved as a pass blocker. The Bucs running back will also get a chance to show what he can do against a Bengals defense that couldn’t stop the run in 2020.
It’s always hard to gauge how well a running back is doing until they actually play in a game. Thankfully, this changes on Saturday night.
2. OLB Joe Tryon
The Bucs’ first-round pick has drawn rave reviews over the first couple weeks of camp. But a player with Tryon’s traits should always look good on the practice field. How it translates during a game is what will give us real insight into what Tryon will look like this year.
Saturday night is an important night for Tryon, even if it’s just the first preseason game. Not only will it be his first time stepping onto the field as an NFL player, but it will be the first time stepping onto a field since 2019, in general.
Tryon and the Bucs defense are also going up against a Bengals offensive line that is in serious flux right now. There are questions from the starting lineup all the way down to the second-, third-, and fourth-stringers.
Left tackle Jonah Williams and center Trey Hopkins are back, but the latter is nearly seven months removed from ACL surgery. Hopkins recently returned to practice, but I’d bet he doesn’t play Saturday night. Riley Reiff is a newcomer at right tackle and has missed some time with an injury. Right tackle Fred Johnson won’t play. The two starting guard positions have been a revolving door thanks to a combination of injuries and lackluster play. Quinton Spain, Michael Jordan, Jackson Carman, Xavier Sua-Filo, and D’Ante Smith -among others- have all had a go as starters on the interior offensive line at this point.
Tryon recently terrorized Bucs practice, so the arrow is certainly pointing up heading into the contest with the Bengals. I say all that to say this: Tryon should have a big night if he can live up to how he’s practiced these last two weeks.
And that in itself would be a big win for the Bucs.
1. DB Ross Cockrell
Cockrell has been sensational over the course of camp. It’s an awesome story that’s only gotten better with each passing day.
The best part about it? Saturday night can go a long way toward making Cockrell’s story even better.
Cockrell has killed it in the backup safety role throughout camp, but how his game look in-between the hashes when the lights come on? That’s really the only question Cockrell has left to answer at this point.
“He makes a lot of plays,” Todd Bowles said recently. “Ross is a very bright player and he’s played corner and nickel. He understands safety because he understands what the corner and nickel are supposed to be doing. So that gives him a leg up there. We’ll still be interested to see [him] in live tackling and everything else, but he has a great understanding of the game, he’s very versatile and he’s a good piece to use.”
The sixth-year vet looks so natural out there as a safety, which makes his “position switch” all the more incredible. You don’t really see this smooth of a transition this early on. But Cockrell looks like he’s played safety his entire life.
What’s even more impressive is how he’s lining guys up in the secondary and barking out assignments pre-snap. He totally gets the mental side of the position and can apply it on the field.
If everything goes well, this would be a huge find for the Bucs and could possibly even save them a roster spot.
“For him to pick it up just like that and come out here and practice has been amazing,” Antoine Winfield Jr. told reporters after a recent practice. “I’m there watching him like ‘Man, he’s making plays, I don’t know how he’s doing it.’ But Ross is a heck of a player, and I was just surprised how fast he picked up everything on the back end.
Who are your five Bucs to watch against the Bengals? Let us know via the comment section below!