TAMPA — As he looked back over the tape early Sunday morning of his team’s 17-16 preseason victory against the Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano spent more time dropping his head than shaking it.
When it came to judging the play of the Bucs’ offense at least, Schiano was more disappointed than discouraged.
This is, after all, the team’s second year in coordinator Mike Sullivan’s offense and far too much of what Schiano saw suggested the unit as a whole is still trying to grasp the system’s most intricate concepts.
“Yeah, I wish we would have played better,’’ Schiano said of the offense, which produced 160 yards (90 rushing, 70 passing) on 57 plays. “But I can see how we are going to play better.
“The worst thing is when you look at it and say, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to do this.’ But I do see how we’re going to do it. Like I said (after the game Saturday night), we just have to do it.’’
The problem is, the Bucs are running out of chances to do it in games that don’t matter. Their last preseason game is Thursday against Washington at Raymond James Stadium and starters seldom play in the final preseason game.
That might not be the case, though, in this preseason finale. Schiano said Sunday that he could not rule out the possibility that some of the starters on both sides of the ball will play against the Redskins.
“I think you will see some (play in that game),’’ he said. “I don’t think it will be wholesale. We’re going to practice Tuesday and Wednesday and based on who’s playing (Thursday), Wednesday will be more of a traditional practice for some guys than it will be for others.’’
There’s no question the Bucs need the practice. Though injuries have forced them to use an array of projected starters and backups, their offensive line has given up 12 sacks in 89 pass attempts, including nine on the 26 pass attempts starting quarterback Josh Freeman has made.
Dropped passes have suddenly become a problem as well. Third receiver candidate Kevin Ogletree let a key third-down throw slip through his hands during a loss two weeks ago at New England, and Pro Bowl wideout Vincent Jackson dropped two balls Saturday at Miami.
And then there’s Freeman. He has completed only 12 of the 26 passes for 101 yards this preseason, and though he has yet to be intercepted, he hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass either and has a passer rating of 56.7.
Schiano, though, is not as down on Freeman as some of his critics are. Citing the array of problems popping up around him — and those include protection issues from the running backs and tight ends — Schiano said Freeman has played well in some areas, including stepping up in the pocket and making decisions.
“I thought he actually saw things pretty well (during his nearly three quarters against Miami),’’ Schiano said. “When you look at his progression — why he did what he did — he saw it pretty well.
“Now, you sit there on the sideline and say, ‘What are we doing?’ But when you look at what he saw, (you understand). There were a couple of decisions that (quarterbacks coach) John (McNulty), Sully and I didn’t agree with, but we’re never going to agree on all the decisions.
“And I’m not back there with mad men coming at me either, so it’s easy to say, ‘Yeah, I would have gone there.’ But then we also had protection breakdowns and (our receivers) didn’t uncover sometimes.
“They have to beat man coverage. Just because we’re playing man doesn’t mean, ‘Oh, we’re covered.’ You have to beat man coverage one on one, that’s matchup football. And there were too many drops. Far too many drops. We have to get that cleaned up.’’
The Bucs have to clean up some things off the field, too. By 4 p.m. Tuesday they must trim their roster to 75 players. That probably won’t prove too difficult a task, but the Bucs do have some difficult decisions ahead of them.
One is at left guard, where the Bucs have to prepare for the possibility that starter Carl Nicks (staph infection) will not be ready for the Sept. 8 opener against the Jets.
The Bucs worked Gabe Carimi at left guard against the Dolphins, but they have several other options to consider, and Schiano said it will probably be the week of the Jets game before they settle on one.
One reason is they have yet to rule out the possibility Nicks will recover in time to play in the opener. Meanwhile, Schiano said he is hopeful the MRSA infection that struck Nicks and kicker Lawrence Tynes is “behind us.’’
“It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances, but I think organizationally, we handled it very well,’’ Schiano said. “We’re moving forward so let’s just hope and pray that’s it because we need to get ready for this opener coming up.’’