When the Cincinnati Bengals take the field against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it will end a 222 day drought Bengals fans have endured since the last time the team played a football game. And even though it’s only a preseason game, it’s still pretty exciting as it is the closest thing that we’ve had to a real Bengals’ football game since the team’s January 1 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
The Bengals do not face the Buccaneers in the regular season, so this will be our only opportunity to see them in 2017, barring the 0.4% chance that both teams meet in the Super Bowl. So, we asked Sander Philipse of Bucs Nation some questions to get a better understanding of the team we’ll see facing the Bengals on the field on Friday night at 7:00p.m. ET.
Scott Schulze: The Bengals just drafted a kicker this year, so I feel compelled to ask about Roberto Aguayo. The Buccaneers made quite a splash in the 2016 draft when they traded up to select Florida State’s kicker in the second round. Now that he has a year under his belt, and some legit competition with Nick Folk to push him, how has he been looking in training camp? Who do you think will win the starting job?
Sander Philipse: He's looked okay in training camp, although the problem was more the actual games than offseason work last year, too. There's very little separating him and Nick Folk so far, though, which probably means Aguayo will hold on to the starting job. Because if it's close, they're always going to go with the guy they've invested more in--plus, he is actually really good at kickoffs.
SS: It’s hard to believe that Jameis Winston is already entering his third year in the NFL. I doubt Bengals’ fans will get to see him much on Friday night, but what would be a realistic expectation for Winston this season? And more importantly, should I draft him as my starting fantasy quarterback?
SP: I don't know about starting fantasy quarterback, he may turn over the ball too much for that, and Dirk Koetter does like to base everything on the running game. But Jameis Winston should have a good year, and I think we can expect him to be a solid top 10 quarterback. He was around the 15th best quarterback last year, and with his own improvement as well as the addition of DeSean Jackson (who will create space underneath for other players) and O.J. Howard we should see him take a pretty big jump.
SS: After moving on from former second round draft pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins last year, the Bucs drafted O.J. Howard with their first round pick this year. He’s a player that some had mocked to the Bengals with the ninth overall selection heading into the NFL Draft. What have been the early impressions of Howard in Buc’s camp? Will he beat out Cameron Brate for the starting job?
SP: Howard has looked solid in training camp so far. It's hard to judge, of course, but it looks like he'll be able to contribute early and often. As for whether he's going to start over Cameron Brate, yes and no. O.J. Howard will almost certainly start, but he's not really competing directly with Cameron Brate--they see Howard as an in-line tight end who can also split out at wide receiver, while Brate is more of a slot tight end. You're likely to see a lot of two-tight end sets where both of them are on the field at the same time, which should give Dirk Koetter a lot of flexibility.
SS: It’s been a decade since the Buccaneers last playoff game, but they’ve improved their record over the last 3 years from 2-14, to 6-10, and 9-7. With head coach Dirk Koetter entering his second season, what are the general expectations in Tampa Bay for their season?
SP: The general expectations are playoffs. It's that simple: the Bucs haven't been to the playoffs since the 2007 season, and this is best they've looked since then. There's a lot of excitement in the Tampa Bay area, and fans really believe in both Dirk Koetter and Jameis Winston. The defense may be a sticky point--it's easy to envision scenarios where that group just collapses--but if nothing disastrous happens, playoffs are a very realistic expectation.
SS: I know it’s only pre-season, so I won’t ask for a score or a winner, but what should Bengals’ fans look for from the Buccaneers in the game? Any hidden gems or rookies who are impressing in camp that we should take notice of? Any interesting positional battles of note?
SP: Kickers! But you already asked about those. I'd say take a look at the backup receivers--there's a real battle there, with rookie Chris Godwin impressing in training camp, and Josh Huff looking pretty good too. Safety is also very interesting, as the Bucs have four guys who could start but none of them are really standout players. J.J. Wilcox has looked good in training camp at that position, while it'll be interesting to see whether Justin Evans can get over the issues he had tackling players in college.