7 months after the surprise hire of Greg Schiano, fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally get to view the product that the fiery coach puts on the playing field. Traveling across the state for summer's first pre-season game, the Bucs meet the Miami Dolphins on Friday, August 10, at 7:30 p.m. at Sun Life Stadium. Though a preliminary contest is rarely a valid indicator of the campaign to follow, numerous players will compete for a coveted job under the new administration. Here are 10 things to watch in the annual Bucs-Dolphins contest.
-- Everything in the NFL begins with quarterback. Though Josh Freeman will not play long, let's see if the 4th year pro improves under new offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and quarterbacks coach Ron Turner. With a horrid 22 interceptions and 5 fumbles in 2011, Freeman's most significant task is to reduce turnovers through better decisions in a collapsing pocket.
-- Reports from camp have raved over the impression that rookie Doug Martin has made upon the coaching staff. The 1st rounder is likely to receive ample opportunity to earn the starting tailback position. Yet, we know 3rd year player LeGarrette Blount has always been a fighter. Will Blount be able to quiet doubters by showcasing power rushing on a field of unproven defenders?
-- Left tackle Donald Penn is battling a calf strain and will not dress for the Miami game. Demar Dotson will take Penn's place protecting the blind side at the end of the line. Dotson has been with the Bucs since 2009, but only played in 22 games. As the 6'9" lineman tries to earn a backup spot, Schiano must hope he can help prevent any feared injuries in this exhibition.
-- The Bucs' prized free-agent signing is undoubtedly 29 year-old wide receiver Vincent Jackson. The former San Diego Chargers all-pro signed a mammoth 5 year, $55.55 million deal, very uncharacteristic of this frugal team. Jackson will certainly elevate the receiving corps, but fans wonder if "V-Jax" can become a dominant play-maker. Such success requires quickly establishing chemistry with Freeman.
-- Rather than plucking a rookie with a stiff learning curve, Tampa Bay wisely added a backup quarterback who accepts his duty. In signing with the team, veteran Dan Orlovsky stated, ''My role is to be Josh's backup and, if needed, to be ready to play at a high level." Since fans hope he otherwise holds a clipboard, only the pre-season will determine if Orlovsky is the man for the job.
-- No position has recently stressed both fans and management greater than defensive line. This is simply a make-or-break season for 2010's 3rd overall draft pick Gerald McCoy. Though end Adrian Clayborn enjoyed a solid rookie campaign, new tackle Amobi Okoye is an unknown commodity. With DaQuan Bowers lost to a torn Achilles, someone needs to emerge at defensive end. With Brian Price shipped away in a trade, someone needs to emerge at defensive tackle. Sadly, so many frustrating questions continue to face the Buccaneers at defensive line.
-- Since the team's linebackers are not much more dependable, Tampa Bay needs 2nd round pick Lavonte David to look like a keeper. With the departure of Geno Hayes, the University of Nebraska rookie can land the weak-side linebacker job with a stellar camp.
-- After 15 years at cornerback, the move of Ronde Barber to safety makes sense. Many fine corners have successfully made this transition late in their careers. However, there is no guarantee that the position will suit the veteran. With added depth from 1st round pick Mark Barron and the return of the scrappy Cody Grimm from injury, Barber must again prove himself.
-- The cliche states that losing clubs lose games on special teams and winning clubs win games on special teams. Despite possessing a high-priced kicker in Connor Barth and punter in Michael Koenen, the Bucs' not surprisingly need to improve special teams. Rookie speedster Michael Smith should be given a shot to return kicks.
-- Let's see if Schiano "plays to win the game," as former Bucs' assistant Herm Edwards famously declared. While some coaches strive for their teams to learn how to win in pre-season, others are completely indifferent about the final outcome. I suspect Schiano is the type who hates losing no matter the form of competition.
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Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A loyal Tampa Bay Bucs fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.