PITTSBURGH, Pa. (WFLA) The Tampa Bay Buccaneers kick off the 2019 preseason against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field Friday at 7:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on News Channel 8.
Head Coach Bruce Arians makes his return to the sideline following one season away from football. The rejuvenated Arians says this rookie class for the Bucs is the most “mature” group he’s ever worked with. Many of those rookies will dominate the playing time against the Steelers as Arians projected young players getting around 80 percent of the plays.
Bucs fans will watch the starters with great interest, as both the offense and defense are working in new schemes. In the case of the defense, some players will switch roles to fit into the new 3-4 scheme installed by defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
Here are three things to watch for tonight:
1. How will Jameis Winston lead drives with the new playbook?
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich have worked extensively to find the QB’s comfort and confidence zone within the Arians scheme.
Throughout training camp, Winston’s big throws have worked with targets Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Breshad Perriman. Winston has also looked sharp in the red zone, connecting with all of his options including tight ends OJ Howard and Cam Brate. Decisions, however, have halted drives and specific situations, such as forcing a throw while a running lane is available.
2. Race to the quarterback
Bucs defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh may only get limited plays in the first game but his presence is likely to be felt quickly. So far in camp, Suh has become a long day for center Ryan Jensen and guard Ali Marpet, two very good offensive linemen. Suh can alter an entire play with his quick start and aggressive nature.
In fact, the entire Bucs defense has attacked at full speed throughout practices, with the four linebacker setup blitzing, constantly rotating which player rushes. Linebackers have routinely made it to the quarterback on plays that would have likely ended with a sack. Suh is not alone on the interior rush. However, defensive lineman Vita Vea, also a force so far in camp, will not play in the first game after injuring his knee this on Tuesday.
3. The rookie revolution
This could be fun to watch throughout the entire preseason. The Bucs rookie class has produced play after play in camp and several players are ready to see how they measure up to an actual opponent.
Linebacker Devin White has been the most active, getting to the backfield on blitzes and also being in position to make plays in the second level. The Bucs first-round pick has the potential to set the pace of the defense, much like Kwon Alexander did in 2018 before his knee injury.
A player that has risen as practices have progressed is rookie Mike Edwards. The safety has stepped up with interceptions and also helped in coverage. His big test will be tackling in the opening game and preventing the big play.
Placekicker Matt Gay will finally have a chance to grab the spotlight as well, with kicks attempted in Heinz Field’s usual tricky conditions. Gay has the leg, routinely booting field goals in camp that are 55 yards and longer. His battle with Cairo Santos will be back and forth for the entire month but may simply come down to which player can convert the 33-yard point-after attempt with the most accuracy.
News Channel 8 is your official Tampa Bay Buccaneers station. Stick with WFLA and WFLA.com for full coverage throughout the preseason and as we head into the regular season.