Buccaneers to take long look at starters

TAMPA, Fla. -- Lovie Smith is playing the preseason by the book.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach said Wednesday his starters will get extensive play in Saturday’s preseason away game against the Buffalo Bills.

“The guys that start the game on our team will play into the third quarter,’’ Smith said. “They know that. From there, we’ll kind of see how it all works out. What we want to see as much as anything is we’re trying to hit on all the different situations. Right now, we’ve done it for the most part. But now it’s about players learning to come in at the half, us to make adjustments and then to finish up strong in that third quarter. So this is a big part of the evaluation for us.’’

Playing starters into the third quarter of the third preseason game is pretty much the norm. The starters played the first quarter in the preseason opener and into the second quarter in the second game.

The Bucs have lost their first two preseason games, but they did show some progress from the first to the second contest. Smith said he’s looking for one thing Saturday.

“Improved play,’’ Smith said. “When you come in as a new staff, we can’t set a whole lot of lofty goals. Based on what? We’re starting from scratch. For us, we set the bar against Jacksonville. We wanted better play last week and we got that. Now we need to take another big, big step as I see it. We’re playing the division champs (the Carolina Panthers) to open up the [regular] season. We need to play our best ball. We need to be peaking about that time. We need to see something that we really like this week.’’