COMMENTARY | The opening game of preseason football for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not produce a successful final outcome, but several position lessons can be derived from the 44-16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday, August 8. Fans should be especially pleased that regular players held Baltimore scoreless in the contest's first quarter and that the Bucs actually possessed a 13-7 lead before playing time was completely handed over to reserves.
While Bucs' coach Greg Schiano must take note of legitimate concerns, which ultimately led to the game rapidly slipping away for Tampa Bay, here are several positive lessons that fans can derive from the loss to the Ravens:
Josh Freeman will be the Bucs' starting quarterback:
Despite only taking the field for the Bucs' initial two possessions, Freeman should again feel comfortable as the team's starting quarterback, and Schiano's post-game remarks reflect that confidence. Though the drafting of Mike Glennon seemingly questioned the fifth-year player's job status, nothing from this game made fans believe Schiano is ready for such a drastic change. Following a "three and out" on Tampa Bay's opening possession, Freeman orchestrated a lengthy first-quarter drive, which produced a field goal and early 3-0 lead. The 25 year-old quarterback completed 4 of 7 passes for 34 yards, but critically located new receiver Kevin Ogletree on two throws, establishing some chemistry with an added piece of the offense.
With Freeman's night coming to a quick end, the offense was guided for much of the contest by rookie signal-caller, Mike Glennon. The third-rounder quickly impressed by hooking up with new tight end, Tom Crabtree, for a 61 yard gain, leading to a second-quarter field goal. However, Glennon largely looked like a rookie during the majority of his 11 of 23 performance for 169 yards and an interception. The youngster's play was choppy and he failed to get the team's offense moving, despite a handful of throws showcasing potential. The 22 year-old may become a fine player, but failed to resemble one of those rare rookies prepared to thrive from day one.
Brian Leonard took a significant lead in earning backup rushing duties:
Though Doug Martin is the unquestioned starter, as he enters his second campaign with the Buccaneers, the club's backup running back job is up for grabs. LeGarrette Blount failed miserably in that role in 2012 and his offseaon trade opened the door to genuine competition. Recent draft picks, Michael Smith and Mike James, should be given ample looks, but Thursday's game indicates free agent signee, Brian Leonard, holds a definite edge in getting carries in 2013. Against many Ravens' first-stringers, Leonard handled the majority of rushing duties in the game's first half. The back toted the ball on 6 carries for 23 yards and provided one of the night's few highlights by scrambling for a second-quarter touchdown.
Following six seasons with the St. Louis Rams and Cincinnati Bengals, the under-utilized 29 year-old signed a one-year deal with the Bucs. Though Leonard has only accrued 646 career rushing yards, the former Rutgers star does provide pass-catching experience from the backfield. Schiano knows these skills well, as the Tampa Bay's leader previously coached the bruising rusher during college, where Leonard showcased a knack for the endzone. Perhaps his strongest competition will come from fellow addition, Peyton Hillis, who entered the game in the second half, but departed soon after with a lower-body injury. If healthy, Hillis may get further opportunities, but Leonard rightfully sits higher on the depth chart.
Lesser-known Derek Dimke possesses a chance to win the kicking job:
Kicking competitions can become the most hotly contested battles of preseason, but it has been several years since Tampa Bay experienced such an intra-squad struggle. With regular place-kicker, Connor Barth, sidelined for the season due to a torn Achilles, the Bucs signed veteran Lawrence Tynes with the expectations that the two-time Super Bowl winner would handle kicking duties in 2013. The 35 year-old competed for the New York Giants from 2007-2012 and impressively converted on 33 of 39 field goal attempts last year.
Added to assist with the extra kicking of training camp, second-year player, Derek Dimke, was also inked by the Bucs and the younger player surprisingly handled kicking duties for the initial game of the preseason. Dimke received tryouts in 2012 with the Detroit Lions and New York Jets, but could not procure a job as a rookie. However, the Illinois product looked like a seasoned pro against the Ravens by hitting each of his field-goal attempts from 29, 35, and 45 yards. The 23 year-old additionally booted three of five kickoffs for touchbacks. Tynes likely possesses an edge as a proven veteran, but if Dimke continues to impress, his lower salary and unknown potential could be definite assets.
Tampa Bay's first-string defense looked solid against the Super Bowl champs:
The game's final 44-16 score is not comforting to long-suffering fans, but the Bucs' performance against Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Joe Flacco, provided substantially more hope. With stalwarts on defense limited to action in the early part of the game, Tampa Bay's starters held the defending champs scoreless in the first quarter. Those efforts further came without key contributors, such as Darrelle Revis, Mark Barron, and Dashon Goldson, who were all held out of action. With Baltimore's opening two drives handled by Flacco, both attacks were capably stalled, including limiting Ray Rice to 7 yards on 3 carries and a deft interception by reserve Danny Gorrer in the first quarter.
While returning players, such as Lavonte David and Adam Hayward, looked sharp in the first-half, new second-round draft pick, Johnthan Banks, also impressed at cornerback with a team-leading 5 tackles. Many improvements are needed in 2013 from the offensive and defensive lines and the Bucs' starters in the trenches additionally looked strong. Obviously, the game slipped away during a miserable second quarter, highlighted by a blocked punt turned into a last-minute Ravens' touchdown. Those legitimate problems speak to special teams concerns and an overall lack of depth. Yet, the Bucs' first-stringers acquitted themselves nicely against a quality opponent. Supporters must hope that performance proves an accurate impression from an otherwise forgettable game of preseason football.
More by Jeff Briscoe for Yahoo! Contributor Network:
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.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Baltimore Ravens
- Greg Schiano
- Josh Freeman
- Brian Leonard