MIAMI GARDENS — There’s a reason Buccaneers LB Adam Hayward has survived six NFL seasons, despite making only 11 career starts.
Hayward has been Tampa Bay’s special teams captain each of the past two years and on Saturday night, he displayed his value once again in a preseason game against the Dolphins.
Miami muffed two first-half punts and Hayward was in the right spot both times, making a pair of recoveries to set up 10 points by the Bucs at Sun Life Stadium.
Late in the opening quarter, Michael Koenen’s punt deflected off Dolphins CB Nolan Carroll, a blocker on the play who was nudged into returner Marcus Thigpen by Bucs CB Michael Adams. Hayward pounced on the loose ball at the Miami 23 and Tampa Bay scored a minute later when Brian Leonard plunged over from 1 yard out.
Thigpen was stripped by Bucs TE Tom Crabtree while returning a punt at his own 41 and Hayward recovered again, leading to Rian Lindell’s 38-yard field goal and a 10-3 advantage.
“It was fun,’’ Hayward said. “But at the end of the day it doesn’t really count because it’s preseason. Mike Adams made a smart play and give Crabtree credit for knocking the ball out.’’
Hayward filled in for an injured Quincy Black last season at strongside linebacker, but he is slated to return to his usual special teams role this fall.
Bucs rookie RB Mike James had been looking forward to Saturday’s matchup since the NFL’s exhibition schedule was released.
The sixth-round draft pick played 50 games for the University of Miami and he had accommodated 15 ticket requests from family and friends eager to see him perform in South Florida as a pro.
James led Tampa Bay with 96 rushing yards through two preseason games, but he suffered through a forgettable first half against the Dolphins.
He was tackled for a loss on each of his first two carries and stopped for no gain on his next attempt, finishing the half with five carries for minus-1 yard.
James opened the second half on a better note, bursting through the middle for a 14-yard gain and finished with 17 yards in seven carries.
When the Bucs drafted DT Akeem Spence in the fourth round out of Illinois, they were hoping he could replace Roy Miller as a nasty interior run stuffer.
Spence started next to Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy against the Dolphins and he introduced himself rudely to RB Daniel Thomas, displaying an impressive blend of power and speed for a 307-yard lineman.
On third-and-1 from the Tampa Bay 10, Spence dropped Thomas for a 2-yard loss during the game’s initial drive. Late in the opening half, Spence knifed in and tackled Thomas for a 3-yard loss on a run up the middle.
“Week to week, I’m getting more comfortable,’’ Spence said. “I did my best tonight to beat the center to the punch.’’
Heading into Thursday night’s final preseason game against Washington at Raymond James Stadium, it appears Spence has beaten out veteran Gary Gibson for the starting nose tackle job.
Despite declaring RB Doug Martin healthy during the week, Bucs coach Greg Schiano held him out of the game. ... DE Trevor Scott, signed as a free agent on Tuesday, registered three of Tampa Bay’s four sacks. “I’m trying to do everything I can to make sure I make it past the final cuts,’’ Scott said, referring to the NFL’s Aug. 31 deadline for finalizing 53-man rosters. ... Gabe Carimi started for Tampa Bay at left guard in place of Carl Nicks, who is sidelined by a MRSA infection. ... DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim replaced Da’Quan Bowers, a former second-round draft pick, as a starter for the second consecutive game. ... Lindell, released by the Bills and signed on Wednesday, handled most of Tampa Bay’s kicking chores before yielding to Derek Dimke. ... WR Vincent Jackson made his first catch of the preseason, grabbing a 13-yard pass from Josh Freeman early in the second quarter. ... Jackson and WR Mike Williams were targeted 11 times, but combined for only three receptions. ... The Bucs were outgained 180-63 in the opening half, converting 1-of-6 third-down situations. ... Tampa Bay’s longest drive of the game in 14 possessions was 28 yards.