10 players who need to shine for Bucs tonight

by Gary Shelton on August 11, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Winston needs to make an impact quickly for Bucs./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Winston needs to make an impact quickly for Bucs./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Thursday, 5:30 a.m.

It's AN important thing, of course. It's just not THE important thing.

It will be an interesting thing to see Dirk Koetter lead the Bucs onto the field to coach his first game tonight. And while I'm sure that Koetter would rather win than lose, it isn't vital. Not when a guy who isn't going to make the Eagles' team might beat a guy who isn't going to make the Bucs. Or vice versa.

Heck, only three Bucs coaches — ever — have won their first preseason game for Tampa Bay: Richard Williamson, Jon Gruden and Greg Schiano. (How's that for three-on-a-match?) But the point is: it really isn't a memorable moment. Losing his first game didn't doom Lovie, and winning his first didn't save Williamson.

Instead, what you want are clues, hints to tell you what lies ahead this season. You want efficiency. You want cohesion. You want ruggedness. You want big plays by big players. You

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Rookie Vernon Hargreaves looks to make his presence felt./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Rookie Vernon Hargreaves looks to make his presence felt./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

want a team that is better when it comes to penalties. You want a team that is more dangerous when it comes to the red zone. You want a team that can protect its quarterback, and get after the one for the other team.

In particular?

You want to see the following 10 players make an impact.

1. Jameis Winston, quarterback: Doesn't it always start with Winston for the Bucs? He has shed his weight, and he has more solidly entrenched himself as the team leader. Now, he needs to play well. A deep pass, maybe two, wouldn't hurt. A long drive. Winston won't play long, but he needs to play well. Otherwise, it will feel as if the Bucs are behind.

2. Noah Spence, defensive end: He isn't even the starter. But I'll be fascinated to see if Spence can bring the juice on the pass rush. The rush off the edge was the most needed part of the Bucs last year, and Spence is the promise to make it happen this year. Again, don't think sacks. Think pressures.

3. Vernon Hargreaves, cornerback: Hargreaves is only a half-a-tick behind Spence. He's the team's No. 1 pick, after all, and you want to see him drape a wide receiver. Last year, the Bucs corners played so deep that, at times, you felt they were fielding punts. A little more coverage would be welcome.

4. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, tight end: Seferian-Jenkins is a man in need of impact. He's behind two tight ends on the depth chart, meaning he needs to use some of that talent to play catch-up. Either that, or he'll spend a lot of time watching Cameron Brate play.

5. Mike Evans, wide receiver: The numbers will lie and tell you that Evans had a good year last year. He didn't. He had too many drops and too many penalties, some for losing his composure with the officials. If Evans is going to establish himself as one of the NFL's elite receivers, the good habits should begin now.

6. Robert Ayers, defensive end: Ayers is a pro who can line up all over the line. But last year was a career high in sacks. Was that a fluke or a man finally figuring it out? Another player who can help solve the problem of the pass rush.

7. Doug Martin, running back: Martin won't play long, either. But it would be nice see a good slashing run or two, wouldn't it? Martin was the second-best back in the NFL last year. Another year like that, and critics will finally acknowledge it.

8. Gerald McCoy, defensive tackle: Yes, 2015 could have been better for him. But McCoy continues to be one of the NFL's finest under-tackles. If he can disrupt early, the Bucs' defense has a chance.

9. Lavonte David, linebacker: David continues to be one of the finest linebackers (true sense of the word) in the NFL. But he struggled with his tackling early last year. This year, he needs to take charge of Mike Smith's defense.

10. Brent Grimes, cornerback: When the Dolphins let him go, there were whispers that he had showed some slippage last year. Grimes needs to show he has plenty left. And who knows? Maybe Miko Grimes, his wife, will like what she sees.

Honorable mention: Kwon Alexander, Roberto Aguayo, Brate, William Gholston, Chris Conti, Bradley McDougald, Ali Marpet, Donovan Smith.

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