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Sunday, Sep 23, 2018
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Tom Jones’ Two Cents: Mixed bag for Bucs’ first teamers vs. Titans

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents while tuning in to the WFLA-Ch. 8 broadcast of Saturday night's Bucs-Titans preseason game.

It's preseason. And it was just the second preseason game at that, so there's no reason to get too carried away one way or the other.

Having said that, it was a mixed bag for the Bucs first-teamers. Just enough mixed, as a matter of fact, that it's probably good that the team has three more weeks to get ready for the regular season. There are still some kinks to work out.

The offense put together a nice scoring drive to take a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, even though you can still see quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick trying to get totally in synch with the first-team offense. There were a couple of throws that were just a touch off, but that appeared to be more about timing than anything else.

However, Fitzpatrick was just okay Saturday night. He will need to show improvement in Friday's slightly more-important third preseason game, against the Lions at Raymond James Stadium, and much better when the regular season starts.

Meantime, the first-team defense looked like it was wearing concrete cleats when Taywan Taylor took a wide receiver screen from Marcus Mariota and raced 47 yards for a touchdown on Tennessee's second possession.

And the unit's tackling, overall, was spotty. The defense, supposedly improved in the offseason, is still a mystery for this team.

Winston shines

Jameis Winston looked sharp. Very sharp. He threw a pair of superb deep balls, something that has been a problem for him in his career. He threw one to Mike Evans and another to DeSean Jackson. It was an excellent night for the quarterback, despite throwing one up for grabs even though it resulted in a Chris Godwin touchdown.

On one hand, if you're the Bucs, you're pleased with that. On the other hand, it has to be infuriating that Winston will not be available for the first three games. What makes it so infuriating is that it's Winston's doing that he isn't available for those games.

Certainly, Fitzpatrick is a capable backup, but he's not as good as Winston.
During the course of the season, quarterbacks get hurt. That's football. And that's when you don't mind leaning on your backup. But when a starter misses games because of off-field behavior? That just has to be frustrating for even the most patient team. And head coach.

Welcome back, Dotson

If you're the Bucs, it was good to see right tackle Demar Dotson back in uniform after recovering from some serious knee issues. The team has plenty of questions going into the season. There's the muddled quarterback situation thanks to Jameis Winston's suspension. Will defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul be able to help the team find a pass rush? Can the defense stop anyone? Who is the running back going to be?

But if there is one area that could determine what kind of season the team will have, it could be the offensive line. It's imperative that the line stays healthy, and seeing Dotson — underrated and underappreciated — back after two knee surgeries is a good start. What was not good was seeing guard Caleb Benenoch go down on the second series, although he did return.

Speaking of Benenoch, not lining up correctly on a field-goal attempt? That can't happen.

Good hands people

The team is loaded with top-notch skilled players. Mike Evans is one of the league's top 10 receivers. DeSean Jackson is a game-breaker with his elite speed. O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin look to have very bright futures. Yet, if you're a Bucs fan, don't you have enormous confidence whenever the ball is thrown in the direction of Cam Brate or Adam Humphries?

This and that

• Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is not as bad of a runner as you might think. Glass half-empty: He's every bit as bad as you can imagine when it comes to sliding.

• One area the Bucs should not be concerned about is punter Bryan Anger. He let one get away Saturday, kicking it into the end zone instead of downing it inside the 20. But the guy is solid.

• Ronde Barber, the color analyst for the team's preseason games on Ch. 8, has rounded into a very solid broadcaster, and Fox agrees. This season, the former Bucs defensive back will work games with the highly capable Kenny Albert, making for what should be one of the better NFL broadcasting teams.

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