The game started out slow, with the teams being tied 6-6 midway through the fourth quarter. From there, things got wild. An 80-yard scoring drive gave Tampa Bay a 13-6 lead with 3:35 left, but Miami answered with a 51-yard scoring drive and a two-point conversion to take a 14-13 lead. The Bucs then responded by going 45 yards in 28 seconds to set up a 48-yard game-winning field goal by rookie Matt Gay.
The Bucs are now 1-1 in preseason play. The final score is ultimately meaningless, so let’s get to our stock report for week two of the preseason.
Perhaps no one on Tampa Bay’s roster has helped their stock more in the last two weeks than running back Dare Ogunbowale. He started camp with what seemed like an uphill battle to beat out veteran Andre Ellington for RB3 spot in the backfield. It was either that or sticking around as RB4.
Throw all of that out the window now. Ogunbowale has been a bright spot in the first two weeks of the preseason, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say he has a solid grip on the RB3 job right now. He ran for 33 yards on 12 carries in Friday’s game, and while his yards per carry average wasn’t impressive, he passed the eye test. Getting carries in short-yardage situations dragged that YPC down. Plus, he caught all three of his targets for 54 yards, with one going for 40-plus yards to set up a field goal. Earlier in the night, he caught another and took it 45 yards, but it was called back due to an iffy holding call.
After quietly finishing as the Bucs’ leading tackler in Pittsburgh last week, Kevin Minter loudly showed up on Friday against the Dolphins. He finished the night with three tackles (two solo) and a pass defended. He looked solid throughout the night, but what will be remembered most about his performance is this play:
Minter definitely has a place on this team, especially with how much Todd Bowles loves to use his linebackers. The veteran already has experience in Bowles’ defense, having played in the system when he was in Arizona. The familiarity is there, as is the need. And he has brought the performances to match.
Obviously, there is no unseating Tampa Bay’s top two tight ends. O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate are locked into those spots. But Tanner Hudson has pretty much been a revelation over the last month or so. He started with a strong showing in the early days of training camp. Then, in the first two weeks of preseason play, he has been outstanding.
After catching seven passes for 84 yards and a touchdown last week against the Steelers, he came through again in the win over Miami. He caught six of his seven targets for 93 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown. He came up with two huge catches on the team’s game-winning drive, with the second setting up the winning field goal. He has played himself into the TE3 role. Easily.
Considering he’s been a Buccaneer for less than a week, Darian Stewart gave his stock a huge boost on Friday. It wasn’t a given that he would play after only getting a couple of practices in this week. Well, he played. And he played a lot. He was in the mix with Tampa Bay’s second-team defense throughout the night, and he played pretty well. The former Bronco picked up a tackle and two quarterback hits in his Tampa Bay debut.
With time, Stewart will obviously grow more accustomed to Todd Bowles’ system. The fact that he stepped right in and didn’t look lost less than a week after being signed shows what kind of player he is. The fact that he played as much as he did — with the second-team, too — also shows what the coaching staff thinks of him. The injuries at the safety position might have just gotten a little less concerning.
With Vita Vea sidelined, Rakeem Nunez-Roches has been given some more exposure. He’s made the most of it, stepping in and stepping up. He got some looks on the first-team defensive line against the Dolphins, then stuck around for more reps throughout the night. Though he only put up one tackle, he was getting some push up front and playing a part in stopping the run. It wasn’t a breakout night for Nunez-Roches by any means, but he quietly had himself a good night.
Depth on the defensive line isn’t the best for the Bucs, so expect “Nacho” to make a case for a roster spot. The coaching staff is putting him in position to do so, which probably gives him an even better shot. At this point, expect him to be on the 53-man roster at the end of the preseason. He has a leg up on the other potential options.
Stock Down #1: Andre Ellington
As mentioned above, Dare Ogunbowale has propelled himself into the RB3 role with his play in training camp and the preseason. That means bad news for Andre Ellington. The veteran was brought in due to his experience in Bruce Arians’ offense. And while he was decent last week against the Steelers, he was less than stellar in week two of the preseason. He ran for just 15 yards on six carries and caught four passes for 14 yards, but he did have a fumble on Tampa Bay’s end of the field. Those kinds of plays can’t happen, especially from a vet.
Truthfully, Ellington’s stock going down has more to do with Ogunbowale’s rise. If the Bucs carry four running backs, there’s no worry for the 30-year-old. But if the team decides to carry three in favor of keeping another wide receiver, he could be out of a job in a few weeks. We’ll see how things unfold over the final two weeks of the preseason before really getting to that conclusion, though.
Stock Down #2: The entire second-team offensive line
This is somewhat of a cop-out, but the whole second-team offensive line struggled. Blaine Gabbert had no time to throw for much of the night, and Griffin felt some of the same pressure. In total, Tampa Bay allowed 13 quarterback hits. Only one of those came with the first-team o-line in the game. Cole Boozer especially struggled, and it was evident that the unit was missing Earl Watford, who didn’t dress.
Simply put, if there’s an injury along the first-team offensive line, the Bucs are in trouble. Watford is capable of stepping in and playing just about anywhere, but beyond him, there’s not a lot of quality depth for the Bucs. Maybe we’ll see some improvements in the next couple of weeks. But if not, it might be a good idea to look for some outside help coming into the regular season.
Like Ellington’s stock decrease, Antony Auclair’s doesn’t have a whole lot to do with his own performance. Auclair didn’t do anything glaringly wrong against Miami. He caught his lone target for a six-yard gain. But it’s clear by now that the coaching staff values Tanner Hudson more than it values Auclair. That could leave the third-year tight end on the outside looking in when the Bucs cut their roster to 53 in a couple of weeks.
Without knowing the full ins and outs, it’s not hard to see that Hudson is getting more looks than Auclair. Hudson appeared to be the primary tight end with the second-team offense. Auclair got more work with the third-team group until the game’s final drive, when Hudson took over the game. Auclair would certainly be a solid practice squad option for the Bucs if no one else scoops him up, but Hudson just has more to offer right now.
When you’re in a position battle and you’re not getting a lot of looks, things probably aren’t going well for you. Cairo Santos got Tampa Bay’s lone extra point attempt last week, but rookie Matt Gay got the only field goal attempt — a 55-yarder. On Friday against Miami, Gay got the more important reps once again. The rookie kicked an extra point and two field goals, with one coming from 32 yards out and the other — the game-winner — coming from 48. Santos’ only attempt of the night was a 23-yarder in the fourth quarter, which he converted.
With the team having spent draft capital on Gay, Santos’ battle was always going to be difficult. In the first two preseason games, it’s been clear that the rookie getting reps has been more of a priority. Santos has been consistently good for Tampa Bay in this competition, which makes him a prime candidate to end up contributing for another team this fall. But where his Bucs stock is concerned, things aren’t looking great.
The surprise breakout star of last week’s loss in Pittsburgh was hardly seen in Friday’s win. Spencer Schnell, who got a huge role last week with Scotty Miller out, was limited to special teams snaps against the Dolphins. Miller was still out, but Schnell didn’t factor in with the offense. Instead, he was back as the team’s punt returner. He called a fair catch on every punt he was back for, so he didn’t get much of a chance to showcase his speed and ability.
When you’re somewhat of an unknown and you put up a 100-yard game out of nowhere, it’s not going to be terribly surprising when your stock goes down the next week. But the fact that Schnell barely got on the field was a shock. Maybe the team saw enough out of him last week and decided not to put any more of his ability on tape. Perhaps it was more of a situation where other guys needed snaps. Regardless, it was a weird contrast from Week 1 to Week 2 for Schnell.