Quarterback Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense look to be headed in the right direction in 2017, despite not reaching the end zone Friday night in a 23-12 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves also showed that he has taken to coach Dirk Koetter's call to play more aggressively. The kicking woes continued for Roberto Aguayo -- he lost serious ground to Nick Folk.
QB depth chart: Winston went 9-for-13 for 99 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He threw for four first downs on that opening drive but twice missed Mike Evans on fade routes in the end zone. Backups Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Griffin alternated after that, and it was not promising. Fitzpatrick ran in a 6-yard touchdown, but had a dreadful series in the fourth quarter. In a span of three plays, he was nearly picked off, fumbled and then was intercepted. Griffin went 4-for-9 for 57 yards and left the game with a shoulder injury.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Bucs looked ...: Pretty good. Evans caught four passes on seven targets for 58 yards. On defense, Hargreaves made an outstanding, touchdown-saving interception at the goal line on a pass intended for Brandon LaFell. He also had a pass breakup on third down, forcing the Bengals to settle for a field goal.
One reason to be concerned: While the Bucs' defensive starters had a nice outing, the backups struggled, making Bengals backup quarterback Jeff Driskel look like an All-Pro in the second half. There was no pressure up front; there were missed tackles and miscommunication. Justin Evans was nowhere to be found when Robert McClain was expecting help over the top on Josh Malone’s touchdown. Backups along the offensive line also struggled in protection.
That guy could start: Javien Elliott looks like a solid nickelback, finishing with three combined tackles and a pass breakup. Between an overwhelming number of first-team reps in practice and his performance in Friday’s game, he should clinch the job.
Rookie watch: Tight end O.J. Howard continued the strong run-blocking he has shown in practice, helping spring Peyton Barber on fourth-and-1. Safety Justin Evans showed that tackling is still an issue for him and he’s got a way to go before he can challenge for a starting role. He finished with five combined tackles. Linebacker Kendell Beckwith finished with five combined tackles, a sack of Driskel in the third quarter and a tackle for a loss. Wide receiver Chris Godwin had one catch on one target for 14 yards.
Kicking catastrophe: Aguayo's 2016 struggles carried over into the preseason. The former second-round draft pick, who went 22-for-31 as a rookie last season, made a 20-yard field goal to open the night but missed a 33-yard extra point in the second quarter. Aguayo was then brought out in the fourth quarter to attempt a 47-yard field goal and also missed. In the third quarter, Folk made a 45-yarder. The two have been competing neck and neck in practice, but Folk clearly had the upper hand Friday night.
Cornerback concerns: With cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Jude Adjei-Barimah both out with injuries, the Bucs are now lacking depth outside. Ryan Smith had a ton of snaps in Grimes’ absence. He had a couple of nice moments. He’s very fast. The Bucs’ ground game also wasn’t particularly impressive, although Charles Sims broke a nice 13-yard run.