While Jaguars fans feel they have to drudge through one more menial preseason game watching the dregs of the roster compete, tomorrow could not be more important for players looking to burst the roster bubble and realize their dreams of playing NFL football. An article by Mike Kaye recently emphasized how critical tomorrow night’s game is for the fringe players on the roster, and the thought that some guys taking the field tomorrow may be putting pads on for the last time in their lives is jarring.
It is difficult to provide a pulse on the Buccaneers (or the Jaguars, for that matter) since we will see very few starters feature in tomorrow’s game.
Some unsettled depth positions for the Bucs heading into this game include running back, cornerback, offensive line, and return specialist. Second-year running back Dare Ogunbowale and rookie free agent Shaun Wilson are vying for the final spot behind Peyton Barber, Ronald Jones II, and Jacquizz Rodgers, and both have been tried out in the return game. Wide receiver and former Seminole Bobo Wilson is the heavy favorite to be the team’s primary returner this year, but if one of those running backs can showcase anything in that regard, they may be able to consolidate a roster spot.
De’Vante Harris, who played well last week, and Josh Robinson are battling for the final spot on the cornerback depth chart. The offensive line picture behind the starters is murky, as several players in this position group have been plagued by injuries over the first three weeks of preseason, so there will be a high level of competition with spots to be earned. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro has been inconsistent thus far, missing one field goal and two extra point attempts, so the Bucs may once again be in the kicker market after final cuts if Catanzaro has another snafu.
After seeing time with the second and third-string units last week against Atlanta, Dante Fowler Jr. is expected to see plenty of playing time this week ahead of his suspension for the season opener against the New York Giants.
A few other defensive lineman who have a lot to gain this week include Dawuane Smoot and Eli Ankou, both of whom have missed the majority of the preseason with injury. Despite being a third round pick in 2017, Smoot is in serious peril of not making this roster and could be a candidate for injured reserve if he “aggravates” his ankle injury on Thursday. Ankou and fourth-year defensive tackle Michael Bennett are likely competing for one roster spot, but my money is on Bennett due to Ankou’s eligibility for the practice squad.
Taven Bryan showed some promising flashes in his debut, and his first step quickness and explosiveness off the snap really shows up on film. While Bryan’s roster spot is not in jeopardy, a solid outing could open up the door to more rotational steps earlier in the season.
With questions at depth linebacker, this week is huge for players like Andrew Motuapuaka and Donald Payne. One player to keep an eye on is recently-signed Nick DeLuca, who saw fourth quarter snaps last week and looked comfortable barking out instructions to teammates in the defensive huddle. DeLuca was a player who stood out to me at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, and while it may be a little late in the game for him to seriously challenge for a roster spot, he should be focused on showing enough to potentially earn a practice squad spot.
Quenton Meeks vs. Tre Herndon
Obviously, they won’t be going up against each other in this game, but it’s likely that the two promising rookie free agents are competing for one roster spot. Herndon’s versatility inside and outside gives him a slight edge, but with two guys on the roster in Patmon and Hayden who can play nickel, the team may prefer Meeks’ length as a developmental boundary corner. This is likely the most compelling position battle on the roster right now, and it would sting to see yet another Breian Boddy-Calhoun/Mike Hilton leave this roster right now.
Will Richardson Jr. vs. Noah Spence/Will Clarke
Richardson has seen very minimal snaps in two games, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen against third stringers so far. Noah Spence is the Bucs’ version of Dante Fowler Jr. in that he has been that rotational true edge pass rusher on obvious rushing downs, and he has curiously been playing very late into the game recently. If Spence sits, Will Clarke is a very capable defensive end who will be a nice match up for Richardson.
Allen Lazard vs. Carlton Davis
I adored Allen Lazard in my pre-draft evaluation, but he hasn’t done a single thing in the preseason games thus far. Maybe the Jags are hiding him to sneak him through waivers and onto the practice squad, but he needs to put up more than a goose egg in the stat sheet this preseason. He should get plenty of opportunities to do so this week, but with Tanner Lee trying to throw him the football, he is almost set up to fail.
Brandon Wilds vs. Jack Cichy
Wilds has done a really nice job and is making some noise to earn the fourth running back spot on this roster. The Jaguars will likely be scouring the wire to see if any good players shake out for this role, but a dominant outing may make them comfortable with what they have. Personally, I’d risk sneaking Wilds through to the practice squad, where you can activate him at any time this season if Fournette, Yeldon or Grant get dinged up. Cichy was a day two talent that fell due to multiple injury concerns, and he should get the majority of snaps at middle linebacker.
No. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get this season started.