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Monday, Sep 22, 2014
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs starters unlikely to get many snaps tonight

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— Demar Dotson was standing in front of his locker, getting ready for the start of practice Tuesday, when he was asked if he thought the Buccaneers’ starting offensive line would get any playing time during Tampa Bay’s preseason finale tonight against Washington.

“I don’t know,’’ the Bucs starting right tackle said. “But we probably do need to play some.’’

Given what happened about 10 minutes into that Tuesday afternoon workout at One Buc Place, Dotson is probably right.

The trade the Bucs made for six-time Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins will result in the fourth changing of a Buccaneers guard since the start of training camp a month ago. That’s why the Bucs’ line would no doubt benefit from working a few snaps tonight.

It’s unlikely, though, that they’ll get those snaps.

Bucs coach Lovie Smith has said that Mankins, whom the Bucs acquired in a trade with the Patriots for second-year tight end Tim Wright and a 2015 fourth-round draft pick, won’t play tonight.

And while he did say that some Bucs starters could see some playing time, he all but ruled out the possibility of any projected starting offensive linemen getting into the game.

“We feel good about the group that we’re going with,’’ Smith said of the Bucs’ projected starting line. “For most of those guys it’s just about getting ready for Carolina (on opening day).’’

The Panthers come to town Sept. 7, meaning the linemen have 11 days to adjust to their newest addition. Developing a new chemistry along the offensive front, though, is not the only thing the Bucs have to do between now and opening day.

They still have to decide who their final 53 players are going to be, and who their backups are going to be at several positions, and that’s what tonight’s game will mostly be devoted to.

“Starters won’t play an awful lot tonight,’’ Smith said. “This final (preseason game), I’ve never really played (the starters much) and I don’t plan on it now. So we’ll play our backups for a majority of the game.’’

Some of those backups still have a chance to make an impact once the regular season begins. After all, there are still some individual position battles that have to be decided.

One of those is at the slot receiver position, where projected winner Chris Owusu yielded a start to rookie Robert Herron last week and also faces competition from veteran Louis Murphy.

Another is at defensive end, where Larry English and Steven Means are pushing Da’Quan Bowers and William Gholston for the opportunity to follow Michael Johnson and Adrian Clayborn in the defensive-line rotation.

And then there are the two return jobs. Rookie Solomon Patton has emerged as the leader for both the kick return and punt return spots, but the Bucs have several options there that could prove more viable.

For example, Herron and running backs Bobby Rainey and Jeff Demps have displayed more ability to work in the regular offense than Patton has, and that could become a factor when deciding on the 46-man game-day lineup.

But it’s not just individual battles that will be monitored tonight. A backup defensive unit that has allowed all but three of the 43 points the defense has been responsible for this preseason has left Smith a little concerned.

“We weren’t pleased with how some of our backups, our seconds, played (last week at Buffalo),’’ Smith said. “We didn’t answer the bell in the third quarter the way we need to. So for the development of our team, this is an important game for us.’’

What makes it even more important is the Bucs have yet to work in preseason games on some of the things that might make a difference once the regular season rolls around, such as two-point conversions.

Smith suggested the Bucs will almost certainly run at least one two-point conversion play tonight, and he intends to have at least one player do something he normally doesn’t, just for practice.

That would be punter Mike Koenen, who also handles kickoff duties but will likely be the Bucs’ backup field-goal kicker to Connor Barth. Look for Koenen to try at least one field goal and/or an extra point tonight.

“During the course of the preseason we want to get all the situations in that we might do, and we haven’t done that,’’ Smith said. “So there are a lot of things that we need to do. And of course evaluating our seconds is part of that.’’

In other news, the Bucs announced Wednesday they have released cornerback Danny Gorrer after reaching an injury settlement. Gorrer was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday as part of the team’s roster cut to 75 players.

 

rcummings@tampatrib.com

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Twitter: @RcummingsTBO

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