Quarterback Jameis Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, makes his professional debut on national television, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin their preseason when they travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings on Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium.
The game will be broadcasted by the NFL Network, and all eyes will likely be on Winston. The former Heisman Trophy winner will be called upon to reverse the struggles of the Bucs, who finished with the worst record in the league in 2014. Winston, 21, was praised by second-year receiver Mike Evans in training camp, perhaps giving the former Florida State star some much-needed encouragement before his first test.
“I think he’ll be a great player,” Evans said. “He works hard, (he has a) great motor and (he’s) an amazing football talent.”
But there is more to the Bucs' first preseason game than their potential star signal caller. Much attention will be paid to how well Winston is protected. The offensive line was heavily criticized last season, but there might be reason to be more optimistic in 2015. Second-round draft pick Donovan Smith and second-year pro Kevin Pamphile are expected to battle for left tackle, while left guard Logan Mankins, center Evan Smith and right tackle Demar Dotson should bounce back from some struggles in 2014.
Head coach Lovie Smith will also be looking at wide-receiving depth with Kenny Bell and Kaelin Clay, two late-round draft picks, making their debut. Bell and Clay could also play big roles on special teams.
The Vikings won their preseason opener, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers, 14-3, but there is plenty of work to do before the start of the season. Minnesota finished with a 7-9 record in the competitive NFC North, which includes the Super Bowl-favorite Green Bay Packers, and have missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons.
They made sure to address the secondary in the draft. Cornerback Trae Waynes, the 11th overall pick, gets a chance to prove himself against Winston's passes. Steelers rookie wide receiver Shakim Phillips made a fine grab over Waynes, and the Vikings' young star will no doubt look to redeem himself against the Bucs.
Head coach Mike Zimmer is expected to have stronger, younger defense with the additions of rookies Eric Kendricks and Danielle Hunter. Against Pittsburgh, Hunter received the most snaps and defensive coordinator George Edwards will likely continue to give the 20-year-old as much early experience as possible.
Zimmer was no doubt pleased with the Vikings' two fifth-round picks against the Steelers. Stefon Diggs shined in his debut with 66 total yards in two punt returns. Diggs also caught two passes for 14 yards. Meanwhile, tight end MyCole Pruitt had a fine game, leading all receivers with 51 yards on four receptions to go along with a touchdown.
Adrian Peterson, one of the most discussed players in the past year, did not play against Pittsburgh and is not expected to feature against Tampa Bay.
Start Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NFL Network
Live Stream: nflnonline.nfl.com
Betting Line: Vikings -3