This Friday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play their first preseason game of the 2023 NFL season. The Bucs will host the Pittsburgh Steelers to kick off the new preseason. And while this is only an exhibition, there are still plenty of storylines to keep an eye on.
While most roster spots are set in stone the Bucs have several competitions for starting positions. There are also several depth jobs up for grabs with new young players ready to take them. Here are the things I’ll be watching for in the Bucs preseason opener.
We already know that Baker Mayfield is scheduled to start this first game. Regardless of results, Kyle Trask will start the second game. This will give both men an opportunity to start in the midst of their quarterback competition.
The talk of training camp has been the interception tally for both quarterbacks. While Mayfield has made more explosive plays, he has also turned the ball over more. While some of this is adjustments to a new scheme and teammates, there’s also a concern of him being turnover prone.
Trask has had a surprisingly strong camp. With added athleticism and some velocity on his passes, the third year quarterback out of Florida is looking like a new man. However, practice and game are two very different situations.
Regardless of who is on the field, I’ll be watching how each of these two manage the office. Ball security will be the top priority. However, I also want to see some shots downfield. This isn’t the Bruce Arians big play offense, but it isn’t one that’s meant to be a dink and dunk offense either.
Young offensive line
It is unclear if Ryan Jensen will play in this game. If he doesn’t, then Robert Hainsey will likely get the start center. This means from center to right tackle are all very inexperienced.
Hainsey started all 17 games last season in Jensen’s absence, but has been a backup his entire career. While he was drafted in the third round to eventually be the starter, Hainsey struggled at times in the starting lineup. I am looking forward to seeing him build on a solid yet not spectacular year in 2022.
Cody Mauch and Luke Goedeke are scheduled to be starters this year. Mauch is a rookie from North Dakota State while Goedeke is switching from guard to tackle in his second NFL season. I expect there to be a steep learning curve for both with their fair share of growing pains.
How painful those will be is yet to be determined. Tonight will be their first look at NFL action together. It could also be a good indication of how the regular season will go.
Rachaad White will be the lead back this year. He impressed as a rookie last season and now it’s his chance to be the featured ball carrier. His vision and well-rounded skill set should do well in this new Buccaneers offense.
After that, there is an open competition as to who will be the primary backup. Chase Edmonds was signed as a free agent and brings a similar well rounded skill set as White. Ke’Shawn Vaughn will have an opportunity to finally live up to his third round draft status and compete to win this job.
However, I’ll be keeping my eye on undrafted free agent rookie Sean Tucker. Tucker is incredibly explosive and a home run threat on every play. This will be our first opportunity to really see what he can do in pewter and red.
Regardless of who wins the job, someone will have to emerge to help improve the worst rushing offense in the NFL last season.
Development of Young Players
There are several rookies and second year players who I will be keeping a close eye on. The Buccaneers have gotten younger this year. That young talent needs to be productive for it to matter.
In the front seven, Logan Hall and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka will have an opportunity to emerge as pass rushers for the Buccaneers. Hall, in his second year, is taking over the starting job for veteran Will Gholston. Tryon-Shoyinka needs to show that he can finish plays after being fairly disruptive in his first year as a starter in 2022.
Rookie pass rushers Yaya Diaby and Jose Ramirez will also look to impress as they try to solidify their spot on the team. Diaby is a high upside physical freak with great explosiveness and power. As a third round pick, his spot on the roster is all but guaranteed. Ramirez is more of a fluid mover with a nice arsenal of pass rush moves. He has to make an impression to stand out in a deep group of Buccaneer edge rushers.
The last young developmental piece is rookie linebacker SirVocea Dennis. He is an excellent tackler with the athletic ability to play sideline to sideline and stay on the field in all situations. He could very well be the primary backup linebacker as a rookie and potentially a starter as soon as next season
Depth in the Secondary.
We know the base four secondary players are as good of a unit as it gets in the NFL. Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, Antoine Winfield Jr., and Ryan Neal are all upper tier starters at their positions. After that, there are a lot of questions.
The biggest is who the primary nickel defender will be. Josh Hayes was drafted in the fifth round to fill this role. However, undrafted rookie Chris Izien seems to have the upper hand. Both will be looking to make a good impression as they fight for a roster spot.
Zyon McCollum struggled as a rookie last year. Early reports from training camp have been positive, but that needs to translate to game day to provide the depth that this team desperately needs. Undrafted free agent Keenan Isaac is another name I’m excited to compete for a depth job on the outside.