On Saturday, the Cleveland Browns continue their preseason on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. To help preview a few topics from the Buccaneers’ perspective, I reached out to Sander Philipse from Bucs Nation and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: “Tight end O.J. Howard was a player who Browns fans were interested in. Has he stood out in camp as a rookie? Has there been anything he's noticeably struggled with?”
Sander: “Howard's been pretty solid overall, and has really impressed as a blocker. He's struggled a little catching and holding on to the ball, though, and I wouldn't expect him to blow up as a receiver in year one. Howard will be on the field a lot as the team's primary run-blocking tight end, and he'll be asked to do plenty in the passing game, too--but dominance may be a bit much to ask right now. Athletically he definitely has the tools to get there, it may just take a little skill development. That's common for rookie tight ends: even Rob Gronkowski couldn't get to 600 receiving yards in his first year in the NFL.”
Chris: “Remarkably, this is the third year in a row that the Browns and Buccaneers are facing each other in the dress-rehearsal game. Both teams practiced together last year, and in last year's game, Jameis Winston easily carved up Cleveland's defense. Is there an expectation that Bucs fans have in mind for this game (i.e. "we better kill Cleveland when our starters are in there")?”
Sander: “Yes: they'd better kill Cleveland when the starters are in there. Or at least, the defense had better shut down the Browns offense--even though the Bucs defense is actually struggling with a few injuries, Tampa Bay needs to keep up its strong defensive performance over the first two preseason games in this dress rehearsal. On offense we'd really like to see a few touchdowns, as Jameis Winston has yet to get into the end zone this preseason.”
Chris: “Have you enjoyed the Buccaneers being on Hard Knocks? Assuming you're watching it, what's been your favorite moment from it so far?”
Sander: “It's been fun, and it's one of the better Hard Knocks seasons in recent memory. There's some good on-field (both in-game and on the practice field) drama there, but the off-the-field moments have been my favorite. We already (mostly) know how these players perform, but we don't know them as people. We get a small sense of that through Hard Knocks--and the bit I loved most was seeing Gerald McCoy interact with his son. It's such a touching and personal moment.”
Chris: “What is the top position battle currently taking place for the Buccaneers?”
Sander: “I'd have to say safety. The Bucs have four players who could start there, though Keith Tandy and Chris Conte have held on to their starting spots for the entire offseason. That was partly due to rookie Justin Evans and free agent J.J. Wilcox being injured, though, and both of them have made some headway since getting healthy. Wilcox in particular is likely to earn at least some playing time, and perhaps even a starting spot.”
Chris: “Tell us about one player on offense and one player on defense who is a relative unknown, but who has turned heads in camp thus far.”
Sander: “On offense, Chris Godwin has been blowing up training camp consistently. That hasn't shown up as much in preseason games, but the rookie third-round pick was seen as a steal, and so far he's looked the part. He's a physical receiver who won't beat you with speed, but by winning all the contested catches.
On defense, I'll have to go with Riley Bullough. He's mostly turned heads on Hard Knocks for his vocal leadership, but he's also shown he can contribute on the field. He won't get much playing time in the regular season, at least not this year, but he can carve out a niche as a special teamer and eventually work his way into the rotation on defense.”
Thanks again to Sander for taking the time to answer my questions.