TAMPA, Fla. — Doug Marrone is playing peacemaker with the Buffalo Bills, and Lovie Smith remains piecing together the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Marrone ripped into his team Thursday following a series of fights, and Smith tinkered with a minor trade that he hopes enhances his guard position.
Scuffles. Roster shuffles. Teammate-on-teammate tension. And oh yeah, the party-house-dwelling Mike Williams will face his old squad that viewed the wide receiver as too much "Saturday night" and not enough "Sunday" before his trade in April.
Regular-season dress rehearsal? This Bills-Bucs matchup has the ingredients to make it feel like more.
"There’s a bigger picture too: We would like to win, but we need to see certain guys," Smith said, providing proper perspective for Saturday’s game at Ralph Wilson Stadium. "If we were just interested in winning, we would play our best players every down. We’re not doing that. We have other things we need to do."
Smith, even with training camp over, has stayed a busy man before Tampa Bay’s third preseason test. Thursday, the Bucs announced a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs that brought them guard Rishaw Johnson in exchange for safety Kelcie McCray. The addition of the 6-foot-3, 313-pound third-year pro is proof that, even with Oniel Cousins and Patrick Omameh faring well against the Miami Dolphins last Saturday at Raymond James Stadium, the coach feels a need to address his offensive line’s largest concern.
Marrone, meanwhile, became a part-time drill instructor this week. Discipline issues Wednesday and Thursday, when Bills practices resembled more WWE pay-per-view than an NFL team in the making, led to the steamed coach ordering his players to run sprints Thursday morning.
"Why can’t you handle it as players?" Marrone yelled at his group, according to the Associated Press. "Do you want to play on this team?"
Funny, because Smith could ask the same question to Bucs defensive end Da’Quan Bowers. A groin injury has sidelined the former second-round pick who has been a shadow of what some thought he could become when he entered the league as the 51st overall selection in 2011. He won’t play Saturday, which means his seat grows hotter with cuts looming.
"I think every day you don’t practice, you’re hurting your chances (of making the team)," Smith said. "We’ve seen enough to like Da’Quan a lot. But all the reps that he’s not getting, someone else is getting them."
This game will be about the starters’ reps, though, and the Bucs should look for more advances by their top teams on both sides of the ball. The first units are expected to play into the third quarter, and offense remains an area where growth must happen with wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans leading the threat through the air. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith said about 20 percent of coordinator Jeff Tedford’s scheme has been revealed so far. The Bucs have been careful how much they show and tell.
The defense, meanwhile, appears Week 1-ready after defensive tackle Gerald McCoy turned Miami’s backfield into his personal playground. Expect no change.
The final score Saturday will be meaningless. Health will be everything.
The Bucs win if no major injuries occur, especially on defense.
"I don’t think anybody is ready, any team is ready," Bucs defensive end Adrian Clayborn said. "We still have a lot more to do to get ready as far as getting together as a unit. We’ll be ready though. … We just want to get back to playing the way they used to play by getting takeaways and controlling the game. I think that’s the way it should be played anyway."
Preseason is about searching for hints that can clear a fuzzy picture. Saturday will be the most realistic vision yet, with a disclaimer, of what the Bucs can be come Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers.
There’s drama in Buffalo and decisions to be made in Tampa Bay.
Saturday’s developments will help tell more of the story.