Saturday night’s Bucs-Texans matchup should feature 30 minutes of the starting roster playing football, so it will be interesting to see how the snaps are divided up once Tom Brady and co. pack it in.
Sidenote: This is the only negative about the NFL’s new preseason schedule. In years past, that fourth game typically served as a 60 minute dress rehearsal for the guys trying to make the team. That’s not the case anymore. But I digress.
Regardless, the Bucs on the bubble (or bubble Bucs as I like to call them) will still have a shot to make a name for themselves against the Texans. Bruce Arians recently said that there are “three or four” guys fighting for the final roster spots, so one would assume they will get plenty of time to show what they can do.
Let’s take a look at the players in pewter and red that you should monitor closely.
All three of these guys have made splashes throughout training camp and the preseason with Hudson leading the pack, but he’s been called out by Arians at certain times.
The Bucs head coach has specifically mentioned Hudson’s needed improvement when it comes to blocking people. McElroy played the most snaps out of the three, but has just one catch for two yards on five targets. Adams had a strong first week of camp, but hasn’t done anything during the preseason. He saw his snaps decrease from nine against the Bengals to just three against the Titans and he’s playing special teams at a minimal rate. So far, Adams has zero receptions on two targets.
The Bucs have carried four tight ends the last two seasons, so I wouldn’t expect that to change after Saturday night’s game against the Texans. But at the same time, Arians and co. aren’t going to waste a roster spot on someone who doesn’t deserve it. Regardless, one of the three need to show up against the Texans if they want a chance to make the 53-man roster.
OL Nick Leverett
Leverett took a step back against the Bengals. And even though he was modest against the Titans, he continued to display his versatility by playing the center position. Arians loves versatility among his players, which could be the key to Leverett making the roster.
It will be interesting to see where the Bucs play him against the Texans. It looks like Robert Hainsey will play. Hainsey was practicing as the team’s second-string center before an injury sidelined him for a decent chunk of time. Brad Seaton took back over at backup tackle against the Titans. My guess would be that Leverett plays guard, his natural position, but we will get our final answer on Saturday, for sure.
By the time the preseason is done with, Leverett may have played each game at tackle, center, and guard. Displaying that type of versatility can only help his chances of making the roster.
A strong training camp has not translated into a strong preseason for Mickens. Granted, that may be due to playing with the lower tier of the roster, but still, you have to make plays at some point. NFL teams don’t hand out roster spots by default.
The good news for Mickens is that Jaelon Darden nor any other receiver of their ilk has really done much to jump him over the last couple of weeks. Darden fumbled on one of his punt returns against the Titans, which should help Mickens in his quest to hold on to his job as kick returner.
But there’s one non-football factor that could determine Mickens’ fate: his two misdemeanor charges. Will that play a role in the Bucs decision to keep him or let him go after the Texans game? A good performance Saturday night is absolutely necessary.
OLB Elijah Ponder
Ponder has played very well over the last two preseason games. A “breakout” game against the Texans may just be enough for him to land the OLB5 spot.
The undrafted free agent has shown he can pressure the quarterback, defend the run, and has made an impact on the ever-important special teams side of things. It’s been a pretty remarkable showing, considering Ponder played with his hand in the dirt in college. He’s even dropped 27-pounds during the offseason, so the dedication and work ethic are there, as well.
Cam Gill’s calf injury has left the door wide-open for the OLB5 position; if the Bucs choose to carry five outside linebackers. A strong showing against the Texans may force the Bucs to make Ponder that guy.
ILBs Grant Stuard, K.J. Britt, Joe Jones
Much like the rotation in practice and games, all three of these guys have rotated when it comes to making plays during the first two preseason games.
Jones pick-six against Cincy is one of the Bucs’ best plays -if not the best play- of the preseason so far. Stuard was easily the best linebacker of the three against the Titans. Britt has been solid and has shown up during a few plays, as well.
The tiebreaker will likely be special teams (stop me if you’ve heard that before). Right now, just based off playing time, Stuard has averaged playing 52% of special teams snaps while Britt has averaged 33%, and Jones has averaged 37%.
Stuard was known as a special teams savant coming out of college and that’s one of the main reasons he was drafted by the Bucs, so his playing time is no surprise. If he can have another strong game a la his performance against the Titans, then one would think he has the leg up on the ILB4 position.
S Javon Hagan
Hagan had a very flashy performance against the Bengals and then parlayed that into a decent performance against the Titans. He didn’t tip any interceptions to himself or make any plays in the backfield against Tennessee like he did Cincy, but he played well. The Bucs safety tied for the team lead with six total tackles and was consistently around the ball for most of the game. There were also times where he was exposed or missed a read, but that’s to be expected even at the highest level. It’s all about how many times those mistakes can be limited when it comes to Hagan.
I honestly don’t think he has to have a world-beater of a game on Saturday in order to make this roster. Hagan likely needs a solid performance that is also mistake-free. Make the correct reads. Get off your blocks. Don’t commit penalties. Excel on special teams. Do the little things and show an understanding of the defense and everything should be fine.
But also be mindful of fellow safety Chris Cooper, who caught Arians’ attention after the Titans game.
“Chris Cooper showed up a little bit on special teams and that was a nice thing to see,” Arians told reporters when asked about players who helped their chances of making the roster. “Everybody else is pretty much what I thought they were.”