Buccaneers return to the field for first preseason game Thursday night

Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans haven't seen in-game action since the last day of 2017 when the Bucs beat the Saints 31-24 on Dec. 31.

Even with that win, the team finished with a record of just 5-11: a season fans were not thrilled about.

But this is a new year. Fans have been packing the practice facility during training camp and the first game of the new season is finally here: well preseason anyway.

 

 

Nevertheless, it will be exciting to see the 2018 Bucs in action. Thursday evening the Bucs travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.

Miami didn't fare much better than Tampa Bay last season, finishing 6-10 and losing the last three games of the season.

The two teams were supposed to play in the first game of the regular season last year, but Hurricane Irma pushed the game back to Nov. 19. When it was eventually played, the Bucs came out on top 30-20.

The beauty of preseason is coaches and fans alike can see new draft picks and free agents in game settings and evaluate their progress.

Tampa Bay's first-round pick Vita Vea is not expected to play because of a calf injury, but there are plenty more players to watch for in Thursday's game.

In the second round of the draft, the Bucs selected USC running back Ronald Jones II. While Peyton Barber was listed as the starter on the first depth chart, Jones will certainly have his chance to prove himself. This will be the first time Bucs fans see him in an NFL game.

The wide receiver battle is also something to keep an eye on Thursday night. Everyone knows Mike Evans and Desean Jackson as the big names spread out wide. But Chris Godwin has turned a lot of heads recently and Adam Humphries should be there as well. That leaves one or two spots open for receivers.

Many times these spots are decided by who plays the best in special teams. The names most familiar to Bucs fans competing for those spots are Bobo Wilson (you may remember him from HBO's Hard Knocks last year), Freddie Martino, who has 13 career catches with the Bucs, Bernard Reedy, who has also played his fair share of games with the team, and Penn wide receiver Justin Watson, taken in the fifth round of the draft this year. However, Martino has been struggling with injuries this summer and may not be ready for the first preseason game. Some of the other receivers to watch out for in the preseason are Jake Lampman, Ervin Phillips and Sergio Bailey.

There's been a lot of buzz around training camp about cornerbacks M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis III. These guys have a lot of upside and could both see a lot of playing time this year. Look for both of them to get valuable game reps in the Dolphins game and beyond.

The offensive line is a spot that should be interesting as well. Injuries have affected this group this week. Leonard Wester and Caleb Benenoch both got banged up, and Demar Dotson is returning from a knee injury. But one interesting piece to watch is rookie Alex Cappa. He was listed as second on the depth chart behind Benenoch, but with the injury, he's likely to see a lot of time Thursday. This will also be the first time we see center Ryan Jensen in a Bucs Jersey on the playing field.

You never want to see injuries in games that don't officially count, so of course the Bucs won't be throwing their starters out there for three quarters or anything like that, but there are several position battles and matchups to watch out for Thursday night.

And no matter who is on the field in the game against Miami, you can bet Bucs fans are excited to have their team back on the field. The game can be seen at 7:00 p.m. on NBC in Tampa.

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