Bucs seek progress in red zone, secondary and from backup QB vs. Jags

Bucs, Jaguars loaded with playmakers heading into season (1:25)

Jon Gruden and Sean McDonough break down the expectations for the Buccaneers and Jaguars ahead of their preseason matchup on a Thursday night edition of Monday Night Football. (1:25)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- After two days of joint practices in Jacksonville, Thursday the Tampa Bay Buccaneers face the Jaguars on ESPN in their second preseason game. It's a good opportunity to work toward cleaning up some of the issues they had last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, like red zone and poor tackling from some of their backups on defense.

It will also help answer questions about their offensive line, a secondary that has suddenly been hit by the injury bug, their backup quarterback situation and their new kicker.

Red zone

Quarterback Jameis Winston moved the ball with ease last week on the opening drive against the Bengals despite starting from his own 6-yard line, completing 5 of 6 passes for 79 yards. But he failed to hit Mike Evans twice in the end zone on a pair of fade routes.

"Me and Mike Evans cannot get inside the 2-yard line and not connect on two straight attempts," said Winston, who did not throw a touchdown pass in the opener. "That's the only negative I take from the game."

After a sluggish practice Monday, which head coach Dirk Koetter said "wasn't very good," Winston and Evans hooked up for several touchdowns. Evans caught a toe-tapper in the corner of the end zone and made a one-handed grab in one-on-ones against cornerback Solomon Patmon, who's been getting a lot of work in the absence of A.J. Bouye.

It should be noted that DeSean Jackson, who has been nursing a sore ankle did very little Tuesday, so he could very well be held out.

Offensive line

Last week it was Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson. This week, the Bucs' offensive line will be tested again, and if you need proof, watch the first brawl that broke out on Tuesday between these two units.

Left tackle Donovan Smith will face defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who had the second-most sacks of any rookie last season. With consistency being his biggest issue, this is a great test for Smith. Center Ali Marpet will also have his hands full against Malik Jackson -- there was some great competition between those two in one-on-ones.

Cornerback depth

Veteran cornerback Brent Grimes likely won't play again as he's still recovery from his lacerated shin, which means Ryan Smith is expected to get a lot more reps once again.

If you caught a glimpse of practice Tuesday, when Smith lined up against Allen Hurns, you'll see he needs that experience. He didn't play a single defensive snap last season and spent the season practicing with the safeties.

Vernon Hargreaves III can also continue to build his confidence after that goal-line interception he had last week on the first defensive series. He faces a tough challenge against Allen Robinson, who made a really nice catch against him on a deep ball down the right sideline Tuesday.

Backup quarterback

Ryan Fitzpatrick might have scored on a 6-yard touchdown run in the second quarter last week, but he looked downright dreadful when, in a single offensive series, he was nearly picked off, fumbled and then was picked off.

In practice, Ryan Griffin has looked liked the stronger No. 2 option, but he's now out for several weeks with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. Either way, it's become quite clear that the Bucs really can't afford to lose Winston this season.


Nick Folk was awarded the job this week after Roberto Aguayo missed a field goal and an extra point attempt. General manager Jason Licht praised Folk's mental makeup and his ability to nail kicks in games, even when his practices aren't perfect. A perfect performance Thursday could go a long way in restoring Bucs' fans faith in that position.