There’s never much to glean from the first preseason game. In four weeks, after cuts and injuries whittle down the roster, we’ll be analyzing a different team with different goals and different setbacks. But despite the turnover, every team displays subtle tendencies in the preseason — like tells at the poker table — that forecast the coming year. These indicators shine under the scope of retrospection: Sabby Piscatelli being burned to a crisp in 2009, the Mike Williams jump ball in 2010, and Josh Freeman’s odd obsession with checkdowns in 2011.
Unfortunately, until the season reveals its high and low points, there’s no real way to discern the difference between a prophetic preseason tendency and a string of flukes born of early-season inexperience and abbreviated game plans. But a few things caught my attention regardless.
- Lavonte David looked especially comfortable on the weak side. The rookie linebacker made some outstanding plays from scrimmage, and a great one-on-one tackle on a punt return. And on a slippery field, no less. His superior instincts create little wasted movement, and that physical efficiency combined with his on-field awareness makes him fast. Faster than advertised.
- Tiquan Underwood plays with a savvy that betrays his late draft status and career numbers. The stringy speedster has been one of the hits of camp, perfectly embodying what head coach Greg Schiano wants in a football player. He hauled in three passes (all for first downs), including a 44-yard stunner between two Dolphin defenders. If he can play with consistency and confidence, he’ll lock down the slot receiver position and help lift Tampa Bay’s offense to heights higher than his haircut.
- Stay onside, defense. For the love of all that is good, stay onside.
- Much maligned Myron Lewis experienced a resurrection of spirit in training camp, but still hasn’t shaken his hesitance in coverage. We’ve been fed stories about his resurgent run defense and fundamental coverage game, but Myron looked the same to me. Cut his dreadlocks and scramble the jersey numbers, and we still could’ve picked him out of the defensive backfield. Yeah him. The guy giving up all the first downs.
- It’s early, of course, but Doug Martin seems to have that knack — that ball carrier’s intuition — to squeeze through a hole, absorb hits, and fall forward into the pile. It’s that Warrick Dunn run-and-cut. The Emmitt Smith shimmy-and-drive. It’s plausible (and hilariously ironic) that the 5-9 215-pound runner acts as the ox in Mike Sullivan’s offense, and the 250-pound juggernaut makes his bread as the breakaway threat. A total reversal of archetypes. Interesting.
- And speaking of running backs, who else was excited to see four consecutive runs inside the five yard line? Maybe it’s three years of conditioning via Greg Olson, but I would’ve bet money on a shotgun fade or a tight end in-route through traffic on third-and-goal. How refreshing. LeGarrette Blount’s goal line plunge in the first quarter expunged three seasons of shoddy offense. And it was liberating.
Who knows what’ll stick? Most of the conjecture spewed over the next few weeks will fall away as the year progresses. But a few things — little tendencies here and there — will define this team down the road, because the seeds of the coming season are sewn in exhibition.