TAMPA — It was a tale of two trenches for the Buccaneers on Friday night in Jacksonville.
While coach Lovie Smith didn’t alibi Saturday for the poor performance of Tampa Bay’s offensive line in a 16-10 setback, the Bucs’ defense was stout as fourth-year pro Da’Quan Bowers emerged as a force in the preseason opener.
“I just played my assignment and did what the coaches asked me to do — play fast and hard,’’ said Bowers, a former second-round draft pick who is entering his contract year. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.’’
Bowers hasn’t made much of an impact at defensive end and a new coaching staff is now also working him inside, especially on passing downs. The former Clemson standout was credited with three stops, including one tackle for loss, along with a quarterback hit and a pass deflection as the Jags were limited to only 264 yards.
“Da’Quan is playing inside, he’s playing outside and he’s making plays at both positions,’’ said Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who was his usual disruptive self from the start at EverBank Field. “He came to camp ready to work and he hasn’t complained. Da’Quan has been putting in the work that is necessary ... and it shows.’’
Second-year defensive end Steven Means added a one-handed sack, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hit. Another second-year lineman, William Gholston, chipped in a pair of stops, and the Bucs could have enviable depth up front when Cam Newton and the defending NFC South champion Panthers arrive in Tampa for the Sept. 7 season opener.
“We’ve got great caliber players on this defense and the sky’s the limit for us,’’ Bowers said. “When you have a front four like ours and good backups, it means a lot. You can get a rotation going and not miss a beat.’’
Heading into Saturday night’s home preseason matchup against Miami, Smith will be looking for improvement from an overhauled offensive line that was manhandled at times in Jacksonville.
With right tackle Demar Dotson the only returning starter, Smith acknowledged the Bucs lost too many 1-on-1 battles up front, especially at the guard spots. Tampa Bay averaged only 3.3 yards on 25 rushing attempts and the Jags registered three sacks. Safety Winston Guy returned an interception 68 yards for a late first-quarter touchdown against Josh McCown, who overthrew a pass under duress.
“They (defensive line) set up the play for me,’’ Guy said. “We got amazing pressure up front.’’
New center Evan Dietrich-Smith vowed better days are ahead for Bucs fans.
“I wish we could have been a little more consistent,’’ he said. “We made some mistakes we shouldn’t have, but we’ll watch film and clean it up. We didn’t get any exotic looks from Jacksonville. We just lined up and played football and we have to do a better job.’’
The Bucs were undermined by 11 penalties, none more costly than a fourth-quarter holding call against tackle J.B. Shugarts that wiped out Mike Kafka’s 48-yard strike to rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
“That’s football,’’ said Seferian-Jenkins, a second-round pick out of Washington. “I had two holding penalties myself, so I figured that would happen to me. That’s karma for you.’’
Smith said the Bucs emerged relatively healthy, indicating rookie wide receiver Robert Herron’s shoulder injury is not serious. He also urged caution in reading too much into an opening exhibition game.
“Normally, there’s big improvement from preseason game No. 1 to preseason game No. 2,’’ Smith said. “That’s what we plan on doing.’’