Bucs' second-stringers fall flat in DC

Bucs' second-stringers fall flat in DC

Published Aug. 30, 2012 12:36 a.m. ET

While Mitt Romney's campaign was heating up in Tampa, Greg Schiano's Camp Pain was winding down Wednesday night in the Nation's Capital.

And talk about painful.

In the battle of the reserves, Schiano's young Tampa Bay Bucs definitely came out on the short end against the Washington Redskins, losing their final exhibition game of 2012 in a 30-3 rout.

The fact that the Bucs lost was of no consequence, since their starters were all watching the from the Fed-Ex Field sidelines. But the lopsided loss underscored the depth problem Tampa Bay faces when the Schiano Era officially kicks off Sept. 9 against the Carolina Panthers.

The Bucs can take heart in how they surprised the New England Patriots 30-28 last week in the third and most meaningful exhibition game, when both teams gave their starting units extending playing time. And they can feel good about closing their first preseason 2-2, having been immersed in a completely new offensive and defensive system in Schiano's grueling workouts.

Yet the relative ease with which the Redskins outplayed the Buc backups --battling for final roster spots -- was somewhat alarming. The final offensive yardage total pretty much summed up the story: Washington 459, Tampa Bay 160.  Even more glaring was the ground game, with the ‘Skins amassing 228 yards compared to just 31 for the Bucs.

Every time you looked up, it seemed as if Tampa Bay's defense -- fatigued from spending so much time on the field -- was chasing tailback Roy Helu Jr., who rambled for 90 yards on 15 carries and a pair of touchdowns. And when they weren't saying hello to Helu, they were by greeting by Redskin running backs Dorson Boyce and Evan Royster (each with 10 carries and 44 yards).

Rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins, selected in the first round after the club drafted Robert Griffin III No. 2 overall, looked sharp in hitting 15 of his 27 passes for 222 yards. He was picked off once and Jonathan Crompton also threw an interception -- both made by rookie Tampa Bay free safety Sean Baker from Ball State.

In fact, Baker was one of a handful of Bucs who clearly improved his chances of making the team with rosters being trimmed on Friday from 75 to 53. The 23-year-old free agent made his first interception early in the third quarter after making a touchdown-saving tackle. And he later recovered a fumble for good measure.

Schiano has stressed that he and his coaching staff will be taking a player's whole body of work into account when making final cuts -- not just basing it on one game. Still, everybody was out to make a convincing case for earning a roster spot.

One such player was wide receiver Tiquan Underwood, who led Buc receivers with six catches for 82 yards -- highlighted by a dazzling sideline grab in the fourth quarter that was ruled out of bounds, only to be reversed with a challenge that clearly showed both feet were in.

Underwood is a class act and his strong performance throughout camp -- including an excellent game against Miami in the first exhibition -- should cement his place on the wide receiver depth chart. He's best-known for being this past February by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick the night before the Super Bowl. But Underwood took the disappointment in stride and never complained.

Schiano, who coached Underwood at Rutgers, brought him in during the off-season and his good hands and speed could be an asset should he made the cut. He helped his cause further Wednesday night by returning a kickoff 40 yards. And when third-string quarterback Brett Ratliff was picked off in the fourth quarter -- his third of the game -- Underwood raced 30-40 yards to make the tackle at midfield.

Those kind of hustle plays can make as big an impression as a clutch catch.

Third-team strong safety Cody Grimm, fighting to come back from a season-ending injury last year, also made a good showing. One week after chasing down New England's world-class speedster Jeff Demps, he ran down and tackled swift Brandon Banks to save a touchdown. He also made a stop on the goal line to prevent a score earlier in the game, finishing with four tackles.

Schiano did some experimenting on the offensive line, looking for a replacement for injured Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph. He played Jamon Meredith in Joseph's spot, while moving backup right guard Ted Larsen to center, with starter Jeremy Zuttah getting the night off.

The backup line wasn't able to offer much protection for third-team quarterback Ratliff, who hit 14 of 30 passes for no touchdowns and the three picks, and was constantly under pressure.

Ironically, one of the most consistent performances against Washington was turned in by a Buc hoping to land a job with another NFL team -- rookie kicker/punter Kai Forbath. He's not going to unseat designated franchise-player Connor Barth. But he's been turning heads nonetheless.

In the win over New England last week Forbath turned heads by converting field goals of 55 and 51 yards, while Barth hit a 56-yarder. Against Washington, he made his only attempt from 43 yards with 6:49 left in the third quarter -- helping the Bucs avert a shutout. He also did a decent job handling the punting duties, averaging 34.7 yards on six punts, with a long of 39. He shouldn't have trouble finding a new employer when everything shakes out.

In the end, the final outcome for the Bucs made no difference. But the final impressions made by many players could determine whether they're around for the season opener.