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Bucs vs. Patriots – Positional Battles To Watch

by James LoPresti on August 16, 2011

There is a lot to like about the preseason. Some people love finally being able to watch the starters in action. Some enjoy seeing which draft picks make a name for themselves. Others use the preseason as a way to gauge their fantasy football prospects. Or you’re like me: thrilled to have something other than baseball and soccer to watch.

Sure, preseason games aren’t usually as exciting as the real thing, and sometimes it is boring to watch third- and fourth-string offenses lumber down the field. But, whatever your view on the preseason may be, it is important to remember that many players are fighting for playing time.

Last Friday’s 25-0 wallop of the Chiefs was a nice sight, but considering this was their first live scrimmage, the result was not that unexpected. Some Bucs players shone in the spotlight more than others, but position battles are far from decided. Here are some matchups to pay attention to this Thursday when New England travels to face Tampa Bay.

Battle for wide receiver No. 2: When the Bucs drafted Illinois product Arrelious Benn, I was a firm believer that if he remained healthy, he would develop into a WR1 or WR2. Today, I’m not so sure. The emergence of Dezmon Briscoe has me questioning my beliefs.

The Bucs picked up Briscoe last year after he was cut from the Bengals. In two games for Tampa, he caught six passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. But what he’s doing this training camp has me intrigued. Briscoe is building a reputation as a deep threat, sure-handed receiver, and precise route-runner. Bucs wide receivers coach Eric Yarber even calls Briscoe a “polished receiver.” Those are big words considering Briscoe is one year removed from being a rookie. Against Kansas City last week, he hauled in a team-high four catches for 60 yards, including a nice 21-yard reception that set up a field goal in the first quarter. With Benn still recuperating from an injured knee, it will be interesting to see how Briscoe performs in his absence.

Who will be the third-down running back: This has been a popular question lately. LeGarrette Blount’s third down struggles last season were baffling, considering his frame and powerful running style. Blount did look energized against the Chiefs, rushing five times for 18 yards against their hulking defensive line. He even caught a six-yard pass out of the backfield, perhaps showing critics that he believes he has the tools to be a dual-threat back. But the most promising play I saw from him was a three-yard plunge on 3rd-and-1, which later set up a field goal.

There has been plenty of chatter during training camp about whom will step up and fill the hole as the primary third down option. Kregg Lumpkin was solid in the first preseason game, carrying the ball six times for 24 yards and catching two passes for 10 yards. He seems to have the advantage over Earnest Graham, though I like Graham’s experience and physicality over Lumpkin’s. Sixth-round draft pick Allen Bradford was ineffective, rushing for just 10 yards on eight carries against Kansas City’s third-string defense. He still has a ways to go before I’ll consider him a dark-horse candidate for the job. And then there’s that Blount guy again. For me, he’s the clear-cut option. He’s the best overall running back on the roster – a 250-pound force who reminds me a lot of a young Jerome Bettis.

Some might argue that Blount’s short-yardage difficulties means he shouldn’t be in that role going forward. But why shouldn’t he get another opportunity? Why should coaches stunt his growth toward being an every-down back? He deserves another shot. He deserves to be counted on to make those tough yards. He deserves the right to become the running back we know he can be.

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