By: Shane Petagna
Next week on Thursday, Sept. 9, the NFL will return to action when the defending Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Dallas Cowboys.
The Super Bowl victory is something UT Sophomore Katelyn Clemens “bragged about to all [her] friends and family at home,” and hopefully the Bucs can continue Champa Bay’s run of dominance in the world of sports into 2022.
This year’s roster won’t look much different from last season, as all 22 starters on offense and defense will be returning. Some familiar faces include Tom Brady, known to some as the greatest quarterback of all time, and wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin who will still be leading the prolific offense that finished 3rd in scoring per game last year.
On the defensive side, skilled inside linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David alongside veteran pass rushers Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul are the players to watch out for in defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ 3-4 Defense.
For the first time since 2019, Tampa Bay’s stars get to shine in front of full capacity crowds at Raymond James Stadium and have sold out every home game in June.
“It’s safe to say the excitement levels are as high as they have ever been,” said Tony Díaz of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission.
Their opponent, the Dallas Cowboys, will get star quarterback Dak Prescott back after missing the majority of the 2020 season with an ankle injury.
Prescott will be accompanied by 3-time Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliot and wide receivers Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb.
Dallas’s offense could be just as good if not better than the Bucs’ this season if everyone stays healthy. The Cowboys finished 6-10 and missed the playoffs in 2020, with some holes in their defense.
Dallas made some moves in the offseason to patch things up, especially at their linebacker positions. First, they signed Keanu Neal to a one year, $5 million dollar deal and transitioned the former safety to middle linebacker. Next, the Cowboys took outside linebacker Micah Parsons from Penn State with the 12th overall pick in the 2021 Draft, who excels in stopping the run and rushing the quarterback. The NFC East division has been a lackluster division in recent years, meaning the Dallas Cowboys have the roster on paper to return to the playoffs in 2021. They’ll be tested early come this Thursday night.
The game doesn’t kick off until 8:20 PM on NBC, but there will be plenty of football action throughout the day.
At Julian B. Lane Park, the NFL is hosting the 2021 Kickoff Experience presented by EA Sports Madden NFL 22. Visitors at the event will be able to meet Buccaneers legends and take pictures with the Lombardi Trophy.
“This event will kick start the NFL into a great 2021-2022 season and engage the fans,” said UT sophomore Connor Pelesh, who will be working the experience.