TAMPA — You’ve heard the phrase “Buc Ball’’ thrown around quite a bit since new coach Lovie Smith arrived in town in January.
Now, you’ve seen what it looks like.
In building a 24-0 halftime lead at Buffalo in Saturday’s preseason matchup, the Bucs excelled at all the touchstones Smith will look for when the games start to count Sept. 7 against Carolina.
A swarming defense forced three turnovers by intermission, and four of Buffalo’s eight first-half possessions began inside the Bills’ 20-yard line. Five of those drives gained a net of 6 yards or less, and Tampa Bay’s defense scored when free-agent addition Clinton McDonald rumbled 17 yards for a score in an eventual 27-14 triumph.
“Each week we talk about it,’’ Smith said Sunday, when the Bucs announced that 12 players had been cut from their 90-man roster. “You talk about ‘Buc Ball,’ to me, that’s our version of Buc Ball right there. When the defense scores, or they put the offense in position, and then of course converting from there.’’
After watching fellow defensive tackle Gerald McCoy wreak havoc in Tampa Bay’s first two preseason games, McDonald proved equally disruptive against the Bills, collapsing the pocket around beleaguered second-year quarterback EJ Manuel.
“I think we’re all getting better, and we’re all understanding what’s expected out of all of us,’’ McDonald said. “When you know what’s expected out of you, you know what to do good and what not to do. We have a lot of great guys on this defense. It’s a very talented defense, and I’m just glad to be a part of it.’’
A first-team defense that has been stingy throughout the preseason could face a pair of backup quarterbacks in the opening two weeks.
Carolina’s Cam Newton suffered a hairline rib fracture that could keep him sidelined for Week 1 at Raymond James Stadium, and Sam Bradford of the Rams is expected to miss the entire season with a torn ACL.
There wasn’t much for Smith to complain about after the Bucs avoided their first 0-3 preseason start since 1988. He wasn’t happy about Tampa Bay’s play in the third quarter, when the Bills capped two long drives with touchdowns, but the Bucs are relatively healthy heading into a home matchup against the Redskins on Thursday night, when few if any starters are expecting to play.
Safety Bradley McDougald (knee) and fullback Javorskie Lane (hand) are still being evaluated, Smith said.
Wide receiver Eric Page, who handled almost all of the kick return duties last season, was one of 12 players cut on Sunday, two days before Tampa Bay must whittle its roster to 75.
Page’s departure opens the way for former University of Florida standout Solomon Patton to assume the punt and kickoff return chores. The rookie receiver has averaged 29.5 yards on six kickoff returns through Tampa Bay’s first three preseason games.
The release of Jeremy Cain paves the way for first-year pro Andrew DePaola to make the team as Tampa Bay’s long snapper. Quarterback Alex Tanney was waived, along with fullback Ian Thompson, wide receivers Tommy Streeter and Skye Dawson, offensive linemen Jace Daniels, Jason Foster and R.J. Mattes, and defensive linemen Euclid Cummings, Ryne Giddins and Chaz Sutton.
Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner saw his first action as a Buccaneer after recuperating from a sore hamstring, but former University of South Florida standout Mike Jenkins (hamstring) hasn’t suited up in a Tampa Bay uniform.
Johnthan Banks, who started all 16 games as a rookie and all three preseason games this month, is still listed as a backup to Jenkins on the depth chart.
“His play has been good,’’ Smith said of Banks. “I’m not saying he’s not going to be (a starter). He didn’t play as well yesterday as he will. When we brought Mike Jenkins in, it’s not like we just handed the position to Mike. We feel like Mike is getting close to being ready to come back, but we’ll see how that plays out.’’