Preseason Ends Mercifully For Bucs
By Corbin Smith
The final week of the preseason often feels like watching paint dry. Only a handful of starters across the league took snaps on Thursday's preseason finale, and after seeing what happened to Andre Brown of the New York Giants, it is easy to see why coaches opt to stick with reserves playing the entire game. While starters get to stay on the sidelines out of harm's way and start preparing for opening week, players that find themselves on the bubble to make the team have one last shot to impress the coaching staff enough to warrant a roster spot. Sometimes, desperation brings good quality football, but most of the time, the final preseason game provides nothing more than sloppy play.
Keeping that idea in mind, it would be unfair to look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 30-12 loss against Washington last night and make any conclusions about how the team will perform against the Jets to open the regular season. Only a few starters played, and those that did just made small cameos and quickly exited stage right after a few plays. If last night's game had little to no significance, then why should the Buccaneers be concerned as real games start next week?
Looking at last night individually has no bearing on the Buccaneers upcoming season, but poor offensive production throughout the preseason provides plenty of reasons for concern and the team has to be happy that the exhibition games are finally over. Preseason statistics do not matter and will not become part of a player's permanent record, but head coach Greg Schiano has to be alarmed by the fact that Tampa Bay finished dead last in the league in overall offense. Sure, Doug Martin hardly played throughout the course of the preseason, and the offensive line has been slowly waiting on Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks to return to action and give the unit a boost. Schiano played it smart not using Martin, and obviously he did not want to rush his star guards back from injury.
However, the Buccaneers have to be disappointed in how the offense has performed throughout August. Josh Freeman did not play much the first two games, but he did see extended action in the third preseason game, and so did the rest of the healthy starters except for Martin. The results looked eerily similar in comparison to the rest of the preseason, as the offense failed to move the football on the ground or through the air. During three games, Freeman completed just 46 percent of his passes and fumbled a few times, but not all of that blame for the offensive ineptitude can be placed on him. He ended up being sacked nine times during that three game stretch and on multiple occasions, his receivers dropped catchable passes. The reserves were not much better, and if the fan base really believed that Mike Glennon would be a better option than Freeman, hopefully his lousy 47 percent completion rate will put those ideas to rest for the time being.
Except for solid running against New England's second and third string defense in Tampa's second preseason contest, the rushing attack has been just as ineffective. Schiano will need to evaluate Brian Leonard, Mike James and Peyton Hillis based mostly on mediocre preseason performances to decide who he will keep on the active roster to play behind Martin, and he will also have tough decisions to make with the offensive line. If Nicks continues to battle toe problems and misses extended time, can the team really be comfortable putting former draft bust Gabe Carimi into the lineup as his replacement? Based on what I've seen the past few weeks, I would think the answer to that question would be an emphatic no.
Losing tight end Tom Crabtree for several weeks just made matters worse. The Buccaneers already appeared to have one of the league's worst tight end situations and Crabtree has been one bright spot at that position throughout training camp and the preseason. After being carted off with a serious ankle sprain, the team has to bank on Luke Stocker staying healthy and may have to cut a useful player at another key position to make room for another tight end on the active roster.
Could the Buccaneers go to New York next week and put these concerns to rest? Maybe. Martin will return to action and Freeman will obviously be playing the entire game, but the offensive line remains the biggest question mark entering the season. Even with Joseph back in the starting lineup, not having Nicks available creates a gaping hole on the left side of the line that the Jets will surely take advantage of. Luckily, the team might not need to score a lot of points to win next week considering who will be playing quarterback on the other side, but that still does not bring much comfort for the remainder of the season. Another sloppy offensive performance next week would only bring more negative attention moving forward as the team plays better competition.
Some teams have an uncanny ability to turn the lightswitch on when real football starts, and maybe the Buccaneers offensive struggles will quickly disappear when the team starts actively game-planning for opponents. Despite what some experts believe, however, the preseason can be revealing and Tampa Bay could be in serious trouble if things do not turn around quickly.