TAMPA — That lean preseason playbook of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' is about to grow a little thicker.
After two weeks of shuttling in personnel to evaluate a 90-man roster, the Bucs are approaching Saturday night's third exhibition game at Miami with more preparation — and more urgency.
“That third preseason game for every team is kind of like a dress rehearsal for the season,'' Bucs Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said Tuesday. “It's not a full, 100-percent game plan, but more of a game week. Starters on all teams around the NFL play a lot more, and we'll do the same. This will be a good test for us to see where we're at.''
Tampa Bay was outscored by a combined 69-37 margin in preseason losses against Baltimore and New England, frustrating fans hoping to see the Bucs end a five-year playoff drought in 2013.
But starting quarterback Josh Freeman played only four series, and several Pro Bowl players returning from injury, including cornerback Darrelle Revis and guards Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks, didn't play a snap in the first two games.
“It's hard to tell, it really is,'' Joseph said when asked how to gauge preseason play. “You have some teams that go undefeated and have an under .500 season and some teams that won't win a game and then go on a streak. We have game-planning this week, so this will be our first week of really preparing for a team.''
Halfway through the preseason, safety Cody Grimm tried to describe how basic Tampa Bay's approach has been.
“It's real vanilla what we've been running,'' he said. “We haven't been game-planning at all. (Safety) Keith Tandy got a stinger last week and I went in to play the dime position. It's so vanilla, I didn't even have any mistakes in a position I don't play. The key is we're trying to make ourselves the best we can be when the real season starts against the Jets.''
Grimm remembers his father, Hall of Fame guard Russ Grimm, telling him about 1982, when the Redskins dropped all four of their exhibition games and ended up 8-1 in a strike-shortened season before winning the Super Bowl.
“Our philosophy is, we focus on the Bucs,'' coach Greg Schiano said. “We do show them some stuff about the opponent, but it's like day before or day of. Now, this week's a little different. This week, we prepare a little bit more, just to get a groove on a game week. This week will be interesting because we're going to play some football this weekend.''
Trying to predict Tampa Bay's fortunes based on preseason results has proven to be risky business over the years.
In 2003 and 2004, the years after their Super Bowl championship season, the Bucs won seven of nine exhibition games. But when the results counted, Tampa Bay's combined record for those two seasons was 12-20.
In 2005, the Bucs split four preseason games before going 11-5 en route to an NFC South title.
“From what I see, what I get in the playbook is nothing like a regular-season game,'' said Joseph, still recuperating from a season-ending knee injury suffered in August 2012.
McCoy isn't surprised some Bucs supporters take their preseason results quite seriously.
“Fans are going to be fans,'' he said. “At any moment, they don't want to lose. For clarity, we use preseason games as a grading scale to brush up on things. There's a difference in a real week, where you game plan for everything, certain situations. That's not what preseason is for. It's not to win the game, it's to get ready for Week 1.''
While key players such as Freeman and McCoy are slated to see more extensive playing time Saturday at Sun Life Stadium, the evaluation process rolls on.
NFL teams must reduce their rosters to the 53-man limit by Aug. 31. The Bucs are racing the clock to finalize depth charts and determine which players give the franchise the best chance to win when Tampa Bay plays the Jets in the Meadowlands on Sept. 8.
“Our coaches are trying to put together the best group of 53 possible,'' Grimm said. “They've got a lot of tough decisions to make.''