TAMPA -- It's the final preseason game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which means the night belongs to the bubble guys.
The regular season starters will not play much Thursday night when the Bucs are in Miami to face the Dolphins, but it's important for the those guys trying to make the final roster.
Bucs head coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will be focusing on special teams -- because that's where those bubble guys can earn a uniform.
A lot of the special teams players come from the defensive side of the ball, and Frazier will be giving them a long look.
Never miss a local story.
"You would like to find some guys that could really help you in the backup roles, but also potential special teams guys," Frazier said. "We need to see them run around and make some plays on defense, but they also, in that backup role, need to do a good job on special teams."
The Bucs could likely have a new punter, kicker and kick returner for the regular season opener. Last Saturday against Cleveland, Tampa Bay allowed a 53-yard touchdown on a punt return and missed two field goals. Those things usually mean changes -- especially this year with extra points being moved back to the 15-yard line, which makes for about a 32-yard kick.
"I know the guys that are in the backup roles that are fighting for a roster spot are anxious to get to Thursday night and get a chance to show why they deserve to be on this 53-man roster," Frazier said.
After cutting nickelback Leonard Johnson, the local favorite who played at Largo High, the Bucs will be looking for someone to fill that slot with Isaiah Frey and Sterling Moore the favorites.
"It's a critical position. In a lot of ways, that guy is a starter on your defense with all the multiple wide receiver sets you get today," Frazier said. "He plays an extended period of time. We have options. Hopefully one of those guys will step up and be the guy."
Smith built a reputation as being a special teams guru when he coached Chicago, but he had the luxury of having Devin Hester -- arguably one of the best returners in NFL history. Now, he is just looking for competency and consistency.
"Special teams as a whole, that's more than just the specialists," Smith said. "We have to do a better job, especially with our coverage teams. That's why you can find out a lot from the last preseason game, to see exactly who wants to play those roles."
Bucs All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy will play briefly, if at all in Miami, but that doesn't mean he won't be excited. He loves watching the bubble guys give it their all.
"This is their first real opportunity to start and play a full NFL game," McCoy said. "It's always fun to see guys go out there and just make some plays. The day after is what I don't like, but (Thursday) is always fun. You get to see guys go out there and fly around."
To reach the 75-player limit earlier in the week, the Bucs released punter Mike Koenen -- to no one's surprise -- waived receiver Robert Herron and center Josh Allen and placed Akeem Spence on the physical unable to perform list, which keeps him out for six weeks.
Possible replacements for Koenen are Jake Schum, who averaged 51.3 yards on four punts against Cleveland last Saturday, and Kyle Brindza, former Detroit Lions kicker who was acquired in the trade for Tim Wright, and averaged 50.7 yards on three punts for Detroit.
Patrick Murray, who stole the field goal kicking job from Connor Barth last year, now appears to be the odd man out after suffering a knee injury with Barth and Kyle Brindza vying for the job.
"He (Brindza) has a strong leg. It doesn't take long to see that. We'll just evaluate him as much as we possibly can and go from there," Smith said.