The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' most glaring weakness is at the offensive guard position, but coach Lovie Smith said the team is close to settling on the starters for the offensive line.
"Last week I had a frown on my face when I was talking," Smith said Sunday. "I'm not frowning right now. We made progress from last week and that's what we wanted to see. We wanted to see progress in all areas. Everybody wants to talk about the offensive line. We're concerned about it and other positions, too. The offensive line got better last night."
Specifically, the new guard tandem of Oneil Cousins and Patrick Omameh held up well enough for 22 plays Saturday to allow quarterback Josh McCown time to complete 5-of-7 passes for 46 yards and a touchdown to Vincent Jackson. The offensive line also blocked well enough for running back Doug Martin to rush six times for 24 yards.
"I thought the group held their own and we saw improvement," Smith said. "But as I said all along, our plan is to let everybody have an opportunity one way or another as we go through.
"When you get to the third preseason game, you're getting ready for the season and the group we put out there right now, they earned that right to get the majority of the plays this week. It will all be fairly clear on what we're thinking this week."
Having not addressed players who were off Sunday, Smith stopped just short of saying the Bucs' plan is to stick with Cousins at left guard and Omameh at right guard. But with the starters expected to play into the third quarter of next Saturday's game at Buffalo, it will essentially serve as the final dress rehearsal this preseason for the No. 1 offense. Few, if any starters are expected to play in the preseason finale against the Redskins Aug. 28 at Raymond James Stadium.
"We had some guys who played better than others," Smith said of the offensive line. "Anthony Collins played well. Evan Dietrich-Smith. Demar (Dotson) didn't play as well as he played last week. Patrick Omameh did a good job for his first time out."
In fact, Smith felt good enough about his starting guards that he offered no evidence for changing that combination this week. On Omameh, an undrafted free agent from Michigan was who signed by the Bucs off the 49ers practice squad last Oct. 11, Smith said, "I think he held up. And when I say played well, I'm talking about all the things we ask him to do. Inside, you've got to be able to one-on-one block versus the run, versus the pass. Our quarterbacks, we held a couple balls, but for the most part protection gave them time to hit the receivers. Patrick was a part of that.
"Last week, the guards were at the top of our minds because of that constant, quick pressure inside. And he didn't really allow that. That's his first time out. We'll just kind of continue. If he's in there - you were kind of leading me down that road - we'll see how he does."
Cousins, who is entering his seventh pro season with five career starts, would seem to have the position locked up. "For Oniel to be in there two weeks, that's telling you I think we know what he is for the most part," Smith said. "Played solid ball."
--Tim Wright switched positions from receiver to tight end last year and as a rookie finished second on the club in receptions (54), receiving yards (571) and touchdowns (5). But this preseason, quarterbacks can't find him and he is in danger of disappearing from the roster.
"I'll just kind of jump on where he's been. He hasn't played as well as he should be playing," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. "He's dropped some balls. If you've been watching him at practice, he's dropped balls. He's a big part of what we want to do with the two-receiver, two-tight end set. Tim hasn't blocked as well inside.
"Once you're that H-back and you don't block, now they just say you're another receiver and teams start going nickel against you. But if they do that, you have to at least be a good pass catcher. And Tim is a good player, he just hasn't played as well as he needs to lately."
Wright played only 17 offensive snaps in Saturday's 20-14 preseason loss to the Miami Dolphins. He was targeted twice, catching one pass for five yards.
--Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy continued his dominant play, getting a sack and forced fumble to set up a touchdown Saturday night. McCoy had three tackles - two for losses -- and a quarterback hurry in his limited action, but came up with the first splash play of the preseason. He got to quarterback Ryan Tannehill and forced a fumble that defensive end Michael Johnson recovered.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Wide receivers Solomon Patton and Eric Page as the kick returner.
Smith said he was very impressed with Patton vs. the Dolphins Saturday night. Patton had three punt returns for 32 yards and averaged 30.3 yards per kickoff return. Page averaged 10.91 yards per punt return last season and 25.0 yards per kickoff return.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--DT Jibreel Black was waived from reserve/injured with an injury settlement by the Buccaneers Tuesday (Aug. 19).
--RB Mike James suffered a shoulder injury in Saturday's game against the Dolphins and probably won't play next Saturday at Buffalo, coach Lovie Smith said. "I've got to be careful what I say right now, but we're not in as good of shape as we were before."
--DE William Gholston (shoulder) won't play against the Bills. "It's going to be awhile for him," coach Lovie Smith said.
--CB Rashaan Melvin suffered an ankle sprain and will be day to day.
--S Major Wright was kicked in the back during Saturday's game and did not return. His status for the Buffalo game is unknown.
--CB Alterraun Verner will practice and could play this week.
--DE Steven Means (groin) did not play in Saturday's game against the Dolphins.
--DE Da'Quan Bowers (groin) is said to be making progress and could play this week.
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