TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting lineup took the field for just one drive, both offensively and defensively, for their first preseason contest of the 2021 season. Despite the majority of reps going to the backups, though, there was plenty to take in from the Bucs' contest against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Below, AllBucs offers numerous takeaways from the first matchup of the Buccaneers preseason.
Ke'Shawn Vaughn has a productive night
Second-year running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn saw more carries than the rest of Tampa Bay's running back room combined on Saturday night, tallying 11 attempts. He was a bit up-and-down rushing the ball, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry but posting a long of seven yards and a couple of decent runs as a whole. He also scored a touchdown from two yards out, the Buccaneers' first score of the night.
Vaughn admitted in training camp that he spent his offseason training on his pass-catching abilities, which helped him accumulate two receptions for ten yards as well.
We'll get into the running back depth chart and the roles at the position later in this story, but given his usage and the lack of touches for Troymaine Pope and C.J. Prosise, it seems as though Vaughn is in a good spot to earn the No. 4 running back role this season should Tampa Bay carry four such players on the roster.
Backup QBs have an up-and-down performance
Stats: Blaine Gabbert - 6-of-11, 64 yards; Ryan Griffin - 6/11, 47 yards, two interceptions; Kyle Trask - 4/15, 35 yards, two-point conversion
Tampa Bay's backup quarterback competition isn't complete quite yet, but it would seem that Gabbert has a lead over Griffin for the No. 2 spot after Saturday night's contest. Gabbert wasn't perfect, but he appeared more comfortable within the offense than Gabbert and didn't try to force many throws.
Griffin, on the other hand, did, and those attempts turned into two interceptions off of tipped passes in the middle of the field - which frustrated Arians, he said postgame
Trask's job as the team's third quarterback was considered safe before the game began, and it will stay that way. Despite a lackluster statline, Arians liked what he saw from the Bucs' second-round pick as he wasn't afraid to launch the deep ball and remained poised under pressure.
Trask's highlight of the name came on a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter, where he rolled out and lofted a pass to tight end Codey McElroy in the corner on the right side of the endzone high enough to where only McElroy could get it - and he did.
Joe Tryon records his first career sack... which gets called off
The first sack of first-round edge rusher Joe Tryon's career was quick, powerful, and impressive all around. It also didn't count.
Tryon swam past Cincinnati right tackle Gunnar Vogel and kept his eyes on quarterback Brandon Allen as he pulled the ball on an option, quickly clobbering Allen for a loss of seven yards. However, referees flagged Tryon for unnecessary roughness as his weight fell onto the passer, negating the sack.
A penalty that head coach Bruce Arians was not fond of, he shared when speaking with media after the game.
"[I] called a timeout to get an explanation on Joe Tryon's sack, on a runner," Arians said with emphasis on the final three words. "Not a quarterback. So there's no such thing as body weight. [I was] really unhappy with the explanation."
K.J. Britt fitting in nicely at inside linebacker; Joseph Jones shines with third team
Listed as one of the Buccaneers No. 2 linebackers on the first depth chart of the preseason, rookie K.J. Britt looked the part after entering the game in the first quarter and remaining in it past halftime.
Britt, alongside defensive back Ross Cockrell, sniffed out a run early in his playing time which turned into a stop for just one yard. Later in the drive, Britt came up with a fumble recovery - forced in part by a big hit from Cockrell, as well as cornerback Antonio Hamilton - which gave the Buccaneers the ball back near the beginning of the second quarter. Britt would finish the game with the recovery and three total tackles, a strong performance for his first pro game.
Another inside linebacker who stood out was Joseph Jones, who recorded an interception and returned it for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, putting the Buccaneers back within one possession of the lead. In addition, Jones compiled two total tackles.
Jones shared after the game that the interception turned into his first touchdown since he played in high school.
Second-team linebacker Kevin Minter didn't make an impact during the game and was flagged for holding on the first kick return opportunity for Tampa Bay. Given his experience with the team, his job is probably still safe as of now, but he will need to make a bigger impression to fend off Jones should the latter linebacker continue to make big plays this month.
Plenty of opportunity for Jaelon Darden
The Buccaneers' fourth-round pick, Jaelon Darden was the team's starting kick returner and quickly entered the game at wide receiver in the first quarter, playing through the majority of the first half. He was targeted six times but only caught two passes, finishing with 19 yards. His lone return was stopped short at the 20 as is, and only got shorter after a penalty set the Buccaneers back half the distance to their own goal line.
Despite a relatively unproductive night, the Buccaneers clearly trust Darden enough to give him ample opportunities, and he still impressed even without the ball in his hand. Darden had no issue separating on deep routes, even after stumbling a bit through his release on the first deep route he ran. Once Darden hits the next gear he can take the top off of defenses, which he showcased on Saturday night.
Darden will need to continue refining his route-runner beyond the go route, as he rounded an out-route in particular and messed up the timing of a pass targeting him earlier in the game.
An early idea of running back totem pole
It's worth repeating that the Buccaneers played their first-teamers for all of one drive. That being said, an early idea of how the Bucs' running-back-by-committee will shape up come the regular season.
Leonard Fournette was the first back on the field and immediately took two carries, although he only gained two yards combined in the process. He was swapped out for Giovani Bernard on third down, who immediately made a nine-yard reception and converted for a first down.
The next play, it was Ronald Jones lining up behind Brady at running back, and he only took one carry for no gain. Bernard made his way onto the field again on a passing down and caught another ball for a gain of seven, but did not take a handoff throughout the night.
The Buccaneers are likely to rotate between Fournette and Jones come the regular season on early downs, and perhaps the two will even split starts. All the while Bernard is comfortably sitting in the third-down role at running back, at least for now.
Stay tuned to AllBucs for further coverage of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' preseason updates, and other news and analysis. Follow along on social media at @SIBuccaneers on Twitter and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sports Illustrated on Facebook.