The wait is over. Football season has arrived as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Jacksonville to square off against the Jaguars at EverBank Field in the first of four preseason contests. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.
Wins and losses at this point are irrelevant as preseason games are designed for evaluating talent, settling position battles on the depth chart, honing execution and developing chemistry.
Despite the fact that starters generally play only a quarter in early preseason games, veteran quarterback Josh McCown is excited about the opening of the preseason.
"I love the first preseason game," McCown said on ESPN.com following a practice earlier this week. "It’s the coolest thing. I was just thinking about it because we just finished up with the two-minute drill and I looked across the board and there are four rookies in the huddle at the skill positions. It’s cool for them. I always tell them to cherish it, because you dream about this when you’re growing up and you’re going to put on an NFL uniform and you’re going to play under the lights. You don’t ever know how long it’s going to last. It might last one year, five years, 10 years, you don’t know. Just enjoy it. It’ll be special. It’ll be fun to watch all those guys play."
Friday night’s game marks McCown’s debut as quarterback of the Bucs.
"It’s a whole new situation for everybody," McCown said. "A new system, new players and all that. The thing is just going out and executing and being clean with things procedurally. You want to break the huddle and do the things that you normally do in a game and feel like the communication is clean and all that."
After nearly two weeks of practicing against teammates, McCown said the Bucs are eager to face an opponent.
"When you practice as much as we do against the defense in training camp, there’s a give and take and a back and forth," McCown said. "They’ve seen so many plays so many times and you’ve seen their defense so many times that there’s kind of this Jedi mind game that starts going on. It’ll be fun to just line up against a different opponent and playing the defense that you see and not trying to out-think yourself when you’re playing against somebody that sees you every day."
The Bucs' offense features a trio of high-profile rookies to watch. Fans will get their initial look at wide receiver Mike Evans, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and running back Charles Sims in their first game action. Evans and Jenkins were hampered by injuries during OTA’s earlier this spring, but both are fully recovered and have impressed in training camp.
Sims, known for his pass-catching ability out of the backfield, has also turned heads in camp.
New head coach Lovie Smith also makes his debut on the sidelines in Friday's game. Smith confirmed in his Wednesday press conference that starters can expect to play about a quarter but said that the rest of the players should be ready for anything.
“As a general rule, if you’re one of the starters, [you'll play] about a quarter or so, somewhere around there," Smith said."The third preseason game, we’ll play our guys into the third quarter – I’m talking about our starters. The rest of the time, we’ll look at the reps, see how the game is going. Again, we have a chart already figured out right now."
The Bucs’ defense will certainly get an opportunity to face first-round draft pick Blake Bortles. Smith commented on what he liked about the Jags' signal-caller leading up to the draft.
“I liked everything about him. Starting off, I liked the way he played in his last game of football in the Fiesta Bowl against a good Baylor team. He performed well. I was out last year – did I tell y’all that? I was out last year and I watched him quite a bit. Just being a football fan, he played good ball. When we worked him out, he had a great workout. When you meet him, great guy. Was a sponge hungry to get to the next level and we liked him an awful lot, of course just like Jacksonville did. I think he has a bright future ahead of him to say the least.”
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