With first-string players seeing a majority of action, drilling against one of the NFL's most consistent franchises can only help fundamentals for Greg Schiano's club. However, an unfortunate stumble by Tom Brady captured headlines during the workouts. Spared of inevitable scrutiny had Brady been seriously hurt, perhaps the incident can help create swagger in this rebuilding team, which was shellacked 44-16 by the Baltimore Ravens during last week's preseason opener.
With an exhibition contest at Gillette Stadium on Friday, Aug. 16, concluding the week-long matchup with the Pats, here are five Bucs players hoping to capture attention:
Adrian Clayborn, DE
Assigned primary blame for Tom Brady's non-injury, many eyes will be focused on the Bucs' third-year defensive end. After all, Clayborn's strong rush on Wednesday against New England initiated a tremor through the NFL world. As Clayborn rolled tackle Nate Solder backward into the turf, Brady fell awkwardly, immediately spreading panic that the eight-time Pro-Bowler had suffered a left knee injury. Despite the hype that followed, damage was limited to a bruise and the quarterback is expected to receive action in Friday's game.
Though Clayborn will be subjected to jeers from the crowd, prospects for returning to top form are growing. Following a solid rookie campaign that featured 7.5 sacks, the Iowa product missed 13 games to a season-ending knee injury last year. Given the free-agent departure of Michael Bennett, the Bucs are counting on Clayborn to realize the potential that made him a first-round pick. With Schiano and the fan-base equally losing faith in Da'Quan Bowers at the opposing defensive end, pressure is even greater for Clayborn to establish a long-missed pass rush. The 25-year-old overcame an early training camp groin injury nicely, but thriving before a bitter audience would build hope of a strong season.
Carl Nicks, G
After being kept from the opening game against Baltimore, Schiano indicated guard Carl Nicks will see his first action of the exhibition season. Nicks is a two-time Pro-Bowler and was given a massive free-agent contract prior to the 2012 season. The equally large lineman began the campaign positively, but was shutdown halfway through the year with a toe injury. Nicks was expected to combine with Davin Joseph to create one of the NFL's more feared guard combos in Tampa Bay. Instead, Joseph also encountered injury and health could turn this signing into a historic bust.
Few doubt Nicks' capabilities on the field, but his toe injury frustratingly failed to heal after nine months of inactivity. Wearing bandages and competing sparsely in practice, the 350-pound lineman is feared to have a permanent injury. In fact, Nicks described the wound as something "I will have to deal with my whole life." Bucs fans hope he can overcome pain to display characteristic stellar blocking. Yet, in the brutal trenches of the NFL, it is difficult to imagine stopping rushers with such limitations. Nicks' ability to compete against the Patriots may demonstrate not only prospects for 2013 but also the potential for the remainder of his career.
Kevin Ogletree, WR
The Bucs' passing attack is committed to the top receiving tandem of Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. The starting duo is not only well-compensated, but it is also impressively combined for more than 2,300 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns in 2012. Playing in an NFC South dominated by vertical offense, however, such production may be insufficient, especially as critics question Josh Freeman's future. With those doubts in mind, Tampa Bay attempted to bolster depth by signing Ogletree to a 2-year, $2.6 million free-agent contract. The former Dallas Cowboy possesses good speed and seems ideally suited for the club's available slot role.
During the initial preseason game, Ogletree opened his Bucs career with a strong showing. Targeted by quarterbacks a team-high eight times, the 26-year-old reeled in five receptions for 65 yards, and critically connected with Freeman for a pair of impressive catches on a first-quarter scoring drive. The receiver, unfortunately, hobbled off the practice field during the week, but Ogletree is expected to play against New England. With an injured Chris Owusu not making the trip, and Tiquan Underwood experiencing the "dropsies" last week, the third receiver position is Ogletree's to lose.
Leonard Johnson, CB
With a pre-training camp release of Eric Wright, all signs pointed to second-round draft pick Johnthan Banks starting at cornerback from day one in a revamped Bucs' secondary. Though Darrelle Revis remains held out of preseason action, the critical acquisition is expected to be ready for the regular season at the other corner spot. Yet, the optimistic hope that Banks could be paired with Revis may prove premature. Not only do coaches often break in rookies as part of multiple coverage schemes, but reports also had Banks struggling in practice against the Pats.
Meanwhile, second-year player Leonard Johnson has impressed during the 2013 preseason. With three interceptions in 2012, the Pinellas County native was one of the few returning secondary members to survive the offseason shake-up. Fourth-year cornerback Myron Lewis was released just last week, so Johnson likely competes with knowledge that he fights for his job. Given the precaution of keeping Revis on the bench, both Johnson and Banks will receive significant time on the field. This game could far in determining the team's second starting cornerback.
Gabe Carimi, OT
Following two injury-plagued seasons for the Chicago Bears, this first-round pick was acquired in June for the small price of a sixth-round selection. Though the Bears' front office gave up on the 2010 Outland Trophy winner, optimistic Bucs fans believed a reunion with his former college position coach in Tampa would create an ideal atmosphere for getting back on track. Seemingly healthy, Carimi competed extensively throughout training camp and the contest against Baltimore. Though the lineman has received the benefit of working with offensive line coach Bob Bostad, the Wisconsin product remains a backup on the depth chart.
With Donald Penn secure in protecting Freeman's blindside, indications are that returning right tackle Demar Dotson has done nothing to lose his job. In fact, Dotson was given a very reasonable four-year, $4.5 million contract by the Bucs prior to the trade. Unless injury dictates otherwise, Carimi will likely serve as a reserve for the 2013 squad. The 25-year-old must showcase both his ability and health in remaining preseason games to hold a roster spot. The Bears previously used Carimi as a guard and such flexibility could aid Tampa Bay. With Nicks ailing, and Joseph not even making the trip to New England, Schiano would be wise to offer Carimi a chance at guard.
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
- New England Patriots
- Greg Schiano
- Adrian Clayborn
- Tom Brady
- Carl Nicks
- Kevin Ogletree
- Baltimore Ravens