Friday night, the Cleveland Browns take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their third preseason game. To help preview this week's game, I reached out to Sander Philipse from Bucs Nation and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: “Two former Browns who are in camp with the Buccaneers include WR Jonathan Krause and DT Ishmaa'ily Kitchen. Have either of them made an impression?”
Oh, wait, I guess you want a longer answer than that. Well, Kitchen really hasn't stood out in any kind of way and is almost certainly not making the roster. The same might not be true for Krause, who has had a few standout days in training camp. Krause bombed in the first preseason game, but then fought back with a decent showing last week, catching a 41-yard deep ball along the sideline. There is room for him to make the team as a fourth or fifth receiver, especially if he can find a way to contribute on special teams, but he'll need a strong showing in tonight's game.”
Chris: “The Buccaneers drafted seven players in 2016. Which of them are expected to be starters in Week 1?”
Sander: “That depends on how you define 'starter'. Second-round defensive end Noah Spence and first-round cornerback Vernon Hargreaves should get on the field on passing downs and could easily wind up playing over 60% of the time in week one, but they probably won't be on the field against run-heavy formations -- though Hargreaves is making a push to earn a full starting spot as an outside cornerback, in addition to likely being the team's primary slot cornerback. There's also Roberto Aguayo, who should be the Bucs kicker, assuming his accuracy issues don't continue to get worse. Does that count as starting? I would say no, but I know some general managers who would disagree.
Whether the Bucs end up starting jobs to Hargreaves and Spence, though, both of them should see the field a lot as rookies.”
Chris: “I got excited for a stretch last year about Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Overall, though, in two years, he hasn't put up top-tight-end numbers. Is there a chance he breaks out this year, or do you expect more of the same?”
Sander: “It's really hard to predict where Seferian-Jenkins is going. The athletic talent is there, and he was pretty consistent when he was on the field last year, but he just didn't play a lot -- both due to injury, and because the coaching staff didn't appear to trust him a lot after he came back from a shoulder injury toward the end of the year. This offseason he was demoted to second-string tight end and at one point kicked out of practice for not knowing what he was doing -- as far as we know, he's the only Buccaneer to be kicked out of practice this year. That would appear to be bad news, but he's bounced back from that and won back the right to at least split first-team reps with Cameron Brate, who in turn has been disappointing this preseason. In the end, Seferian-Jenkins is simply too talented a player to keep off the field -- no tight end on the roster is as gifted as him, nor as potentially explosive in the passing game. He will play, and he will get the ball thrown to him, the question is just how much he'll be on the field.”
Chris: “What is the top position battle (if any) that is still going on for the Buccaneers?”
Sander: “Most of the starting spots appear to be set in stone, but there are two areas where things might chance. One is at cornerback, which is what we talked about above. Hargreaves seems to have won the slot cornerback job, and he's pushing for more -- whether that would come at Brent Grimes' or at Alterraun Verner's expense isn't entirely clear right now. One problem for Verner: he is expensive and his salary is not guaranteed. The fact that second-year undrafted rookie Jude Adjei-Barimah has looked good this preseason probably doesn't help him either. Ultimately I expect him and Grimes to remain the starters, though, with Hargreaves in the slot.
The other position is center: the Bucs are officially listing Evan Smith and Joe Hawley as starters on the depth chart, which is pretty much unprecedented. Hawley looked slightly better than Smith last year, but the difference wasn't massive and they're very similar players. For now, it's not much of an immediate issue: injuries to starting guards J.R. Sweezy and Ali Marpet have forced Smith to step in at right guard. Once those players are healthy, though, we'll see who ends up starting at center.”
Chris: “Tell us about one player on offense and one player on defense who Browns fans might not be familiar with, but have had pretty good camps.”
Sander: “On offense, most Browns fans won't know wide receiver Russell Shepard, a special teamer who has sporadically gotten playing time as a wide receiver over the past three years, and looked good when he has. He keeps not getting on the field, but had a bit of a breakout game in the first preseason game. There's a chance he'll wind up playing a decent amount as the Bucs' fourth or even third receiver this season, but he'll need to have a good third preseason game for that to happen.
On defense, look out for defensive end Howard Jones. The third-year pass-rusher manages to flash every time he gets on the field, and had a number of big splash plays in very limited time last season. He won't be a starter and he won't even be in the team's primary pass-rush package, but I have a feeling we'll be hearing more from him than from some Tampa Bay starters.”
Thanks again to Sander for taking the time to answer my questions.