By Evan Winter
Special to Sports Talk Florida
The Bucs lost, 19-14, against the Bengals on Saturday night, but there were a few guys who still found ways to make plays despite the loss.
So who stood out during the first 60 minutes of the 2021 season?
Let’s dive in and find out.
5. S Javon Hagan
Man, did Hagan look good on Saturday night. He was all over the place and made numerous plays. But to be fair, there was also some bad involved, as well.
The Bucs safety made the play of the night when he intercepted Bengals quarterback Brandon Allen. Hagan was dropping back in coverage and tipped the ball to himself, making the play. But tragedy struck when Hagan fumbled the ball moments later during the interception return.
Tragedy struck again on the next play. Allen found Mike Thomas for a quick pass and Hagan had the angle, but missed the tackle and Thomas rumbled 22 yards to Tampa Bay’s 47 as a result.
In fact, this sequence of events helped pave the way for the Bengals’ first touchdown.
“Javon missed a lot of tackles,” Arians told reporters Saturday night. “Made some plays, missed a lot of tackles though. He’s too good of a tackler to play like that.”
4. QB Kyle Trask
Don’t let Trask’s 4-of-15 for 35 passing yards or his 39.6 quarterback rating fool you. The Bucs’ second-round draft pick was solid against the Bengals on Saturday night.
He showed good decision making, went through his progressions, and threw some pretty balls during his time on the field. Trask’s night would’ve looked much, much better if Josh Pearson and Travis Jonsen hauled in two deep passes on the sideline. Both plays were on-point passes from Trask. Pearson and Jonsen just couldn’t finish the play.
Trask also showed tenacity and fearlessness in the pocket, taking multiple deep shots. There was both good and bad when it comes to Trask’s performance, but overall, it was a good debut.
If Hagan avoids the mental mistakes that were just mentioned, then he’s easily the best player on the Bucs defense Saturday night. His final stat line is proof: Six tackles, three tackles for loss, and the interception. The playmaking ability is there, he just needs to keep his head on straight.
Regardless, he caught the attention of a lot of people on Saturday night and said people will be looking for Round 2 against the Titans.
“I thought Kyle [Trask] played well,” Bruce Arians said after the game. “He went in there and made some throws that guys needed to make plays for him. I like his poise and where he’s at.”
3. CB Antonio Hamilton
Hamilton led the Bucs with seven tackles and was all over the place on Saturday night against the Bengals.
Hamilton played mostly out of the slot, so defending the run is key when it comes to evaluating his performance. Well, he defended the run very well against the Bengals and from what I could tell without the All-22, he covered well, too.
Per Pro Football Focus, Hamilton finished with the fifth-best coverage grade and the 10th-best run defense grade on the team. The latter stat may not sound too impressive, but when you consider that he received a higher grade than the likes of Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh, Will Gholston and many others, it makes things a bit more impressive. No matter how many snaps were played.
Hamilton also forced a fumble and allowed just eight yards per reception on two completions. He was an effective tackler, as well, evidenced by his team-best 83.0 tackling grade and the fact that he allowed just two yards after a completion. He did have a DPI call go against him, but Saturday’s night’s refs were making questionable calls all game long, so there is definitely a universe where Hamilton’s flag doesn’t get thrown.
Right now, it looks like the CB5 position is Hamilton’s to lose.
2. OLB Joe Tryon
The Bengals’ offensive line woes created an environment for Tryon to have a big night. Sure enough, the Bucs’ first-round draft pick would’ve had his first NFL sack it wasn’t for an extremely questionable roughing the passer call.
Tryon didn’t show up in the box score, but he was in the backfield on several different occasions and flashed the athleticism, length, and power that he’s shown so far in camp. Per PFF, he finished with team’s second-highest pass rush grade (77.8) and had the third-highest grade among rookie EDGE rushers and rookie linebackers.
There was a moment where Tryon dropped back in coverage, showcasing the versatility that was one of the many reasons why Tampa Bay chose him with the 32nd overall pick.
It feels like Tryon is going to bust through and make a big play at any moment, now. Which is why there will be plenty of eyes on him for the remaining duration of the preseason.
1. RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn
Most figured the Bucs’ second-year back would get the majority of snaps through the preseason and that was the case against the Bengals. The former Commodore played 44% of offensive snaps, which was the fourth-highest mark of any skill player on the team.
Vaughn was able to make the most of his time and made a couple of nice catches and showed some strength on his touchdown run. He even made a good play on special teams, chasing down the Bengals’ first punt return of the game. Vaughn couldn’t initially wrap up, but hustled enough to where he caught up with the returner just a couple of yards downfield. To say Vaughn flew down the field during the return wouldn’t do the situation justice. Arians said Vaughn clocked in at 21MPH during the play.
“I thought he played lights out,” said Arians. “He made a hell of a play as a gunner. He ran the ball well, blocked well. I thought he made a really nice step, especially his special team snaps. We know he can run and we know he can catch. Those plays on special teams were big for him.”
Even though his roster spot is likely safe, this is a big preseason for Vaughn. But he’ll be fine as long as he continues to play like he did Saturday.