NFC South Reporter
TAMPA, Fla. — A preseason game can be a strange environment for a quarterback competition, as the Bucs played their opener Friday without their top two receivers, their top running back and three starting offensive linemen, all held out.
But Baker Mayfield went first and threw a touchdown pass without any interceptions, while Kyle Trask came in with the same personnel and threw an interception without any touchdowns, giving the veteran a key win in the battle for Tampa Bay’s starting job.
“Trey (Palmer) made an absolutely great catch in the back of the end zone,” Mayfield said of his second-quarter throw to the Bucs’ rookie receiver from Nebraska. “Just one of those balls with a lot of trust right there. Our young guys are playing well at receiver and Trey did his thing tonight.”
It was a 7-7 game when Mayfield was done for the night, midway through the second quarter, going an efficient 8-for-9 for 63 yards and most importantly avoiding the interceptions that had been a regular part of his first two weeks of training camp.
Trask, who had been the more careful passer in practice, had the Bucs’ lone interception Friday night, with his third pass attempt picked off by Steelers safety Trenton Thompson. Trask was also sacked three times with inconsistent blocking and said he felt much more comfortable than in his first two NFL preseason.
“I tried to squeeze one in there, see if I could fit one in, and they made a good play on it,” said Trask, who finished 6-for-10 for 99 yards, leaving in the third quarter. “Other than that, I felt like I had good plays and bad plays but a lot of good learning experiences.”
The presumption has been that Mayfield’s experience as a five-year NFL starter would be a considerable advantage over Trask, who attempted just nine passes in two years as a backup behind Tom Brady. Trask will now get the start in next week’s preseason game against the Jets — presumably with top receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and more of the starting offensive line — but Mayfield will likely get to work with the same personnel when he comes in.
Four more observations from Friday’s opener, a 27-17 loss to the Steelers at Raymond James Stadium:
- Right tackle Luke Goedeke struggled, getting beaten on two sacks and giving up a holding penalty, putting his status as an unchallenged starter in question. He’s taken all the reps with the first line at right tackle, taking the spot opened when Tristan Wirfs moved to left tackle, but the Bucs may have to consider their limited options to compete with him, including backup Brandon Walton. Goedeke opened last year as the starting left guard but struggled there, filling in at right tackle in the final game of the regular season at right tackle, where he’s now working exclusively.
- Rookie right guard Cody Mauch, making his NFL preseason debut, was flagged for two penalties, including a false start on a fourth-and-1 play on the opening drive, but appeared to settle in better as the night continued. The Bucs kept their initial line on the field for both quarterbacks well into the third quarter, with Wirfs, left guard Matt Feiler and center Ryan Jensen getting the night off.
- In the competition for backup jobs at outside linebacker, Cam Gill helped himself in a big way, getting one sack and splitting another, all this in his first action in nearly a year, since suffering a season-ending Lisfranc foot injury in last year’s preseason. Gill pointed out his injury was on Aug. 13, so he got back just under the wire — “I’m 100 percent, blessed to be back out there,” he said.If the Bucs carry a fifth OLB, he’ll be in a tough competition with sixth-round draft pick Jose Ramirez. Another rookie, third-round pick Yaya Diaby, is likely the fourth OLB, working behind returning pass-rushers Shaq Barrett, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Anthony Nelson.
- Who’s the top backup to running back Rachaad White? Fourth-year back Ke’Shawn Vaughn got the start Friday with White held out, but managed only four yards on seven carries, again running behind a patchwork offensive line. Vaughn got a chance on a fourth-and-1 play at midfield but was dropped for a 3-yard loss. The Bucs got a little more from newcomer Chase Edmonds, who had 18 yards on six carries, just missing a touchdown as he slipped near the goal line. Edmonds was also physically pushed back on one of Pittsburgh’s sacks, and the running backs as a whole managed just 33 yards on 20 carries. The third back in, undrafted rookie Sean Tucker, had a touchdown run brought back on a holding penalty, and he’ll continue to compete for a spot on the 53-man roster.
- Palmer’s touchdown catch was more of the promise that he’s shown in two weeks of practices, and he’s a safe bet to stick on the roster as a backup, along with second-year pro Deven Thompkins, who finished last year as the primary return specialist and got the first crack on punts and kickoffs Friday night. [Auman: Bucs WR Deven Thompkins, 5-7 and 151 pounds, has one big advantage on the field]
- The wild card for a sixth receiver is undrafted rookie Rakim Jarrett, who has turned heads with steady play in practice, but he was held out of Friday’s game with what coach Todd Bowles called a sore leg. Bowles said he didn’t know whether Palmer would be able to play next week against the Jets, but any significant absence would make it harder for him to stick on the initial 53. Another challenger there is veteran David Moore, who had a team-high 66 yards on three catches Friday night and has experience with offensive coordinator Dave Canales from their time together with the Seahawks.
Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.
2023 NFL preseason schedule: Dates, times, channels, how to watch
2023 NFL Week 1 odds, predictions: Picks, lines, spreads for every game
NFL 2023 preseason highlights: Jahmyr Gibbs, Dee Alford, Jahan Dotson, more
Baker Mayfield, Ron Rivera and Kyle Shanahan ‘under duress’ ahead of NFL season
Deuce Vaughn still has a lot to prove, but Cowboys preseason opener was a great start
Bryce Young struggles in preseason debut as Panthers are shut down by Jets
Anthony Richardson’s preseason debut featured an interception — and positive moments, too
4 Cowboys players to keep an eye on in preseason opener
Baker Mayfield outshines Kyle Trask in QB competition during Bucs preseason opener
Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more