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Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A Preview Into Tonight's Preseason Opener

GOAL LINE STAND
By Leo Haggerty

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2017 National Football League season is finally upon us. I don’t know about you but I’m ready for some football.

Tampa Bay opens the exhibition season, in my mind I cannot refer to it as the preseason for the reasons below, tonight travelling to the Queen City to take on the Cincinnati Bengals. Kickoff is at 7:30 PM and expectations are sky-high among the Bucs faithful.

Before you get all fired up about winning the opener, please kept in mind that it is not the most important thing Head Coach Dirk Koetter and his staff want to accomplish. Yes, coming out on the west side of the dash on the scoreboard when the game reaches its conclusion would be nice but there are other factors that are higher on the priority list.

Below, in my opinion, are the major areas that the Buccaneers are looking for positive results. Keeping with the title of my column, I’ve listed the four specific items because you only get four shots when it’s goal-to-go so here lets have at it.

1st and Goal – NO MAJOR INJURIES.

This is the first, and foremost, goal for the Bucs. Coming out of any game injury-free is right behind winning but, before the bullets fly for real in Miami on September 10, it’s the primary directive. I’ll remind you of the following fact and you’ll probably win a drink or two at your local watering hole with this information. When the Pewter Pirates won Super Bowl XXXVII, only one of the 22 starters from the first weeks of the season could not suit up and that was DT Anthony McFarland. Having “your guys” available is vitally important as the Bucs proved against the Oakland Raiders in San Diego.

2nd and Goal – HAVE A BETTER IDEA OF WHO WILL BE THE KICKER.

Ok, is it going to Roberto Aguayo or Nick Folk? I think they will both get equal shots tonight but, unless one completely collapses, don’t be surprised if the Pewter Pirates keep both around for at least another week especially if Folk is the leading candidate. GM Jason Light doesn’t want to have to cut his second-round pick in 2016 especially when they traded to move up to secure the Florida State alumnus. That’s never a good thing.

3rd and Goal – MAKE A DECISION ON AS MANY BUBBLE PLAYERS AS POSSIBLE.

This is why winning is not the main objective and the perceived starters will only play, at most, one quarter. All teams in the NFL will have to trim their roster from the 90-plus players in camp down to the 53 the rules allow. Players “on the bubble” will be looking to make splash plays. The longer a player sticks around at training camp the more chances for them to make the final roster. Also, there’s more film on them if they do get cut and another franchise wants to take a look. Look for Tampa Bay to make a few roster moves this weekend but the big cut-downs will come after the last three exhibition games.

4th and Goal – STARTERS MUST LOOK LIKE A PLAYOFF TEAM.

The Bucs don’t have to win but the team, in all three phases of the game, has to set a positive tone from the opening play. The starters on offense need to look decisive and crisp. The starters on defense need to show aggression and cohesion. The starters on special teams need to look special. They Pewter Pirates first-teamers need to send a message that this team is playoff bound and anything less is unacceptable.

That’s my top four. You may not agree but that’s the great part of the NFL. There’s different ways to get ‘er done.

Now, enjoy the beginning of what we hope will be a season where the Buccaneers get back to the postseason. Just remember that the exhibition season is not the regular season so keep it in perspective.