Pending any further developments from Tropical Storm Fred, the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are set to officially begin their title defense on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET when opening the preseason against the visiting Cincinnati Bengals.
Every coaching staff has a different approach when it comes to who plays in the preseason and how much, especially with there only being three exhibitions this year instead of four. Bucs head coach Bruce Arians has already indicated that his starters will play on Saturday, albeit for an unspecified period of time. On the other side, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor didn’t specify who would play but specifically indicated who wouldn’t.
With the starters getting the green light to go from Arians, we should see Tom Brady take snaps for the Bucs but for most likely only one series. Returning backups Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin remain entrenched at second and third on the depth chart but expect to see plenty of reps second-round pick Kyle Trask as he gets his first taste of NFL action.
To no surprise, Joe Burrow was one of the players Taylor immediately ruled out as he still recovers from his torn ACL. We’ll see plenty of backup Brandon Allen as well as a mix of Kyle Shurmur and Eric Dungey.
Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette are the top two returning backs from the Super Bowl run and they, along with offseason signee Giovanni Bernard, will most likely be limited. Expect a lot of work for second-year back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who’s made it an emphasis to work on his pass catching this offseason.
On the Bengals side, don’t expect to see much from Joe Mixon as Samaje Perine and Trayveon Williams will most likely handle the load in the first half.
The Bucs have an army of top receivers to deploy but a bulk of the work in this one will go to rookie receiver Jaelon Darden and the returning Jaylon Mickens. Darden’s speed makes him a prime kick-off guy moving forward while Mickens has bounced back-and-forth between the practice squad and the main roster over the past year.
This is the first time we’ll see Ja’Marr Chase in a Bengals uniform and he’ll have the chance to shake off some of the early camp struggles with plenty of first-half reps on Saturday. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd will most likely be limited, opening the door for the likes of Mike Thomas, Trent Taylor, and Riley Lees to get some work in.
Rob Gronkowski will most likely dip his toes in for a series before calling it a night for the Bucs. Cameron Brate was just activated from the PUP list, so the staff may take it easy with him as O.J. Howard knocks off some rust after returning from his season-ending injury from last year.
Expect to see a good mix of Bengals tight ends to get reps on Saturday with Drew Sample, C.J. Uzomah, and Thaddeus Moss still stamping out spots with the Cincinnati offense.