A high-stakes audition will begin on Saturday as 30-plus players on the Buccaneers’ current roster will have one more chance to cement a role on the final 53 against the Indianapolis Colts. In preseason Week Three at Lucas Oil Stadium. Players will rotate reps through four quarters to provide coaches with an all-inclusive evaluation. Head Coach Todd Bowles confirmed that “everyone who is healthy will play” against Indy, upping the stakes. Performances on Saturday night will dictate placement, as dreams of playing in the NFL hang in the balance for many. From ordinary names to extraordinary play, here are five Bucs to watch for prime viewership.
The Buccaneers’ seventh-round draft pick, Andre Anthony, is trying to solidify a roster spot. He currently sits as the No. 5 outside linebacker on the depth chart behind starters Shaquil Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and reserves Carl Nassib and Anthony Nelson. Against the Titans in preseason Week Two, Anthony showcased his quick burst out of a two-point stance. In the fourth quarter, Anthony used a swipe maneuver to gain outside leverage on the blocker. He then had a free run at the quarterback through the B-gap. During his career at LSU, Anthony compiled 55 tackles, 11.0 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. He was dubbed a “height, weight and speed guy” by Head Coach Todd Bowles. Anthony’s speedy recovery from a torn ACL suffered in September allowed him to participate in LSU’s Pro Day and for extensive work in the Bucs’ rookie minicamp. The injuries that plagued his collegiate career pushed the Power Five prospect from a potential day one or two acquisition to a third-day selection. If health permits, the Buccaneers could have a dark horse candidate in their midst. As Anthony continues to enhance his pass rush/counter arsenal in the pros, his stock will rise. On Saturday, keep an eye on No. 46.
Back in May, Olakunle Fatukasi was one of 13 undrafted free agents to sign with Tampa Bay. While attending Rutgers, Fatukasi accumulated 302 tackles, 28 tackles for loss, seven sacks, four forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries in 53 games. He became one of the most dominant defensive players in the Big Ten during his collegiate tenure and now works on molding his craft to the NFL. Every year in the league, there are under the radar players that become hidden gems. Throughout training camp and the first two preseason games, Fatukasi fits that bill. Against the Titans this past Saturday, Fatukasi tallied nine tackles (team lead) and 1.5 sacks. He proved that performance was not an anomaly, leading the Bucs with six total tackles against Miami the week before in the preseason opener. He has one more showcase to lock up a spot but so far he has impressed with his ability to fly to the football. Titans’ quarterback Malik Willis was often forced to escape the pocket due to pressure and Fatukasi played a large role in penetrating the interior of the pocket. Fatukasi showcased effective pursuit angles and wrapped-up his intended targets, rarely letting the opposition out of his sights. No. 53 will certainly be one to observe.
Guard Aaron Stinnie sustained injuries to the ACL and MCL in his left knee in Saturday’s preseason game against Tennessee and was placed on injured reserve on Monday, ending his 2022 season prematurely. Stinnie was expected to step into a larger role this season as the most experienced among the challengers for the vacant left guard spot. The battle now falls between second-round selection Luke Goedeke and second-year pro Nick Leverett. With the offseason retirement of Ali Marpet and the ensuing injury to Stinnie, it is “next man up.” Goedeke will now have the opportunity to entrench a starting role as a rookie. Against the Titans, Goedeke was flagged for two holding penalties that negated big runs by Rachaad White. Mistakes can cultivate growth and often reveal character. Bucs’ Vice President of Player Personnel John Spytek, discussed the maturation process.
“Rookies, you know, they’re going to learn, they’re going to make mistakes,” Spytek explained. “But I think from a teaching-coaching standpoint, we have a great staff that way, ‘Hey, you know, it’s good to go in the games and make mistakes, right?’ We saw Luke make a couple of mistakes the other night, a couple holding calls – he doesn’t have to do that. But in that, there’s a lesson, you know, and as long as you have the right person that will listen, will understand, and learn from it, and can also bounce back from it, I think those mistakes end up becoming really valuable and I think we’ve seen that with all of our guys. The fact that they’re going to make mistakes, they’re going to compete and they’re just going to keep doing it day after day.”
Goedeke’s incessant film study and additional self-motivated one-on-one sessions after practice will help optimize development and increase the level of comfortability with hand placement/coordination in pass sets on the left side of the formation. Head Coach Todd Bowles confirmed that Goedeke will start at left guard on Saturday, which will garner attention through meaningful reps.
The Minnesota mauler has made a mark throughout the offseason. Ko Kieft, the Buccaneers’ sixth-round draft pick, has lined up all over the field from fullback to in-line tight end to slot receiver. Kieft was drafted due to his blocking prowess and dominance in the trenches to elevate two tight end sets and provide a force in the run game. Behind Cam Brate, Kyle Rudolph, and Cade Otton on the depth chart, Kieft will primarily be tasked with doing the dirty work at the line of scrimmage. Referred to as a “blocking specialist” by analysts/scouts in the pre-draft process, Kieft is a menace, sitting at 6’5, 265 pounds. His effort to block at the second level will likely pay dividends for the Bucs whether a perimeter run or receiver screen ensues. At Minnesota, plays were schemed around Kieft’s ability to block the edge, providing a crease for the runner to get upfield. Kieft finishes through plays and possesses a rare tenacity, garnering his placement on the rundown. Keep an eye on No. 41 come Saturday as the competition heats up.
What Jerreth Sterns lacks in size he makes up for in his playing style. Due to his small frame (5-7, 183 pounds), Sterns went undrafted. He saw an opportunity with the Buccaneers and impressed the coaching staff throughout camp with his splash plays between the hash marks. Sterns won college football’s receiving triple crown at Western Kentucky, leading the nation in receptions (150), receiving yards (1,902) and touchdowns (17) last year. He is one of only three players in the past two decades to accomplish the feat, a testament to Sterns’ ceiling. With superb change-of-direction and precision on routes in the short-to-intermediate range, Sterns adds another dimension to the offense. He is joined by two other talented undrafted rookie receivers in Deven Thompkins and Kaylon Geiger. The Bucs will have some challenging decisions to make in the coming days regarding the receiver depth, with several noteworthy highlights from all three during the duration of OTAs, training camp and the preseason. As Sterns seeks to entrench a role on the roster in a crowded receiver room, pay attention to No. 9 on Saturday.