Greg Schiano's primary objective in his first season as coach of the Buccaneers was to change the culture at One Buc Place. Having achieved that objective, his goal now is to win football games.
It doesn't matter much if the Bucs win in the preseason, but how individual players and units perform in these exhibition games will say a lot about Tampa Bay's chances of winning consistently in the regular season.
With that in mind, ignore the scoreboard during tonight's preseason opener against Baltimore at Raymond James Stadium and focus instead on these five critical areas of play.
The pass rush
The Bucs tied for 30th in the 32-team NFL in sacks last year with 27. That inability to consistently harass opposing quarterbacks was a big reason they ranked last in the league against the pass. The Bucs are counting on the return of RDE Adrian Clayborn from a season-ending knee injury and the emergence of LDE Da'Quan Bowers to make them more formidable up front. They're also counting on rookie DEs William Gholston and Steven Means to give them a boost, particularly on third down.
The Bucs have completely revamped their secondary from a year ago. CBs Aqib Talib and Eric Wright and S Ronde Barber are gone. In their places, respectively, are CBs Darrelle Revis and Johnthan Banks and S Dashon Goldson. Revis, a four-time Pro Bowler coming off a season-ending knee injury, won't play tonight, but Goldson and Banks will. So will second-year S Mark Barron, who is expected to play more in the box as a run-stopper and blitzer and could get a lot of work tonight.
The most consistent kicker in Bucs history, Connor Barth, is out for the season after tearing his right Achilles tendon playing in a charity basketball game in July. Tampa Bay hasn't decided who will replace him, but the team is looking at nine-year veteran Lawrence Tynes and rookie Derek Dimke. An ingrown toenail on his kicking foot could hamper Tynes' usefulness tonight, which means Dimnke has a chance to take a commanding lead in the race to replace Barth.
The Bucs' top two receivers are set, as three-time Pro Bowler Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams will again be QB Josh Freeman's top targets. The Bucs still must determine who will line up alongside those two as a third option. The team is high on Kevin Ogletree, a former Cowboy they picked up in free agency, but no one has looked consistently better during the first two weeks of training camp than Chris Owusu. Incumbent Tiquan Underwood remains in the mix, as well.
The loss last November of strongside LB Quincy Black to a career-threatening neck/shoulder injury created a hole in the starting lineup. The team signed four-year veteran Jonathan Casillas in free agency, but the coaching staff is intrigued by Dekoda Watson's pass-rush ability and overall athleticism. Both players will make the team, but who plays this critical first- and second-down position the most when the games start to matter will be determined in preseason.