KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural Grass
TV: CBS (Spero Dedes, Rich Gannon)
PREDICTION: Browns 17-14
KEYS TO THE GAME:
The Bucs are returning to their old Tampa 2 roots, which means they will try to prevent teams from getting much over the top in the passing game. The first order of business, though, will be to try and contain the Browns' rushing attack, including the possible Wildcat formation with Josh Cribbs taking direct snaps.
Tampa Bay ranked 32nd in the NFL last season in rushing defense. But having rookie defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, along with second-year DT Roy Miller, inside should be a huge upgrade over last year's tandem of Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims.
The key will be to get QB Jake Delhomme in predicable passing situations, where the Bucs believe they can dial up some pressure and force an interception or two.
The Browns finished the 2009 season running the ball and that is how they'd like to start 2010. They signed right tackle Tony Pashos and drafted running back Montario Hardesty plus guard Shawn Lauvao to make that happen.
Hardesty is out for the year with a torn left ACL, but Lauvao and Pashos are set on the right side. Jerome Harrison is eager to pick up where he left off -- 561 yards in the last three games.
FAST FACTS: The Buccaneers are 3-17 in their last 20 games. ... Phil Dawson will become the Browns' all-time leader in field goals with six more, surpassing Lou Groza (234). ...
INSIDE THE CAMPS
For better or for worse, the first edition of the Browns team constructed by Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert is about to play games that count, starting with the season opener Sunday against the Buccaneers in Tampa.
Fifteen players are new to the roster. The biggest additions on offense are quarterbacks Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, tight end Benjamin Watson and running back Peyton Hillis. On the defensive side of the ball the new names are linebackers Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong, safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Joe Haden.
The turnover could have been more dramatic, but it wasn't. The wide receiver unit is virtually intact. Heckert, who has the final say on the roster, held onto aging linebackers Eric Barton and David Bowens, both in their 12th season.
"We said this when we came in here," said Heckert, in his first season as Browns general manager. "This is not going to be rebuilding deal where we're just going to wipe out everybody and start all over and be whatever we are.
"It would be easy to sit here and say, 'Yeah, I think we're a playoff contender and all that.' We think we're a good enough team that we're going to compete in every game. We'll have to wait and see how the season goes."
If Heckert's prediction holds true the Browns will be markedly better than last year when they lost 27-6 at Denver, 34-3 at Baltimore, 31-3 to Green Bay and 30-6 to Chicago in a span of seven weeks.
All four of those losses occurred in the first half of the season. Delhomme said one reason he signed with the Browns was they won their final four games.
There are more questions about the defense than the offense. The starting quarterbacks in the first three preseason games completed 30 of 36 passes on the Browns.
The Browns posted only four preseason sacks. It remains to be seen whether defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was playing possum or whether opposing quarterbacks will remain untouchable.
"We do have to get pressure on the quarterback," Heckert said. "There's no question about it.
"We haven't shown what we're going to do. Shaun Rogers coming back will be a big bonus for that. He can collapse the pocket and get us some pressure there. We'll see how it goes. But we do have to get more pressure on the quarterback. There's no doubt."
The Browns sacked quarterbacks 40 times last year.
Bucs coach Raheem Morris always has said he wants his team to embrace the heat of practicing and playing in Florida.
But after watching tape of his club labor through what amounted to an extra day of practice Wednesday, he decided to take the Bucs indoors.
So Morris loaded his team on busses and took them to Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, to practice in the air conditioning.
"You know you want to embrace the heat, you just don't want to have it be a factor on your body, have it be a factor on your players," Morris said. "(Wednesday) was a rough practice for those guys, they went hard. You've got to scale where your team is and what you can do for them.
"I was looking for the schedule to see what time (Rays manager) Joe Maddon was going to come on TV. I realized he was out of town and said, 'It'd be a great day to steal his facility.'"
Morris said he doesn't know for sure how much impact the heat has on players, nor if he'd look at using the Trop again, "It all depends on how this week plays out," he said.
While the Bucs don't have an indoor practice facility, they do sometimes use a cool-down tent, and Morris said they've got to be "willing to try different things to give yourself an opportunity to find out" what works.
--Rookie G Shawn Lauvao missed practice Thursday with a twisted ankle and is listed as "out" for Sunday's game.
--Floyd Womack practiced for the second straight day after missing all preseason recovering from knee surgery. Coach Eric Mangini said he is comfortable starting Womack.
--OL Billy Yates, waived on Monday, was re-signed because Lauvao is injured. LB Titus Brown was waived to create a roster spot.
--Practice time increased for NT Shaun Rogers Thursday. He will likely start against Tampa Bay despite missing all preseason on P.U.P.
--A concussion S Nick Sorensen suffered on Aug. 28 in Detroit is preventing him from practicing.
--Rookie Joe Haden is listed as the backup right cornerback on the depth chart. When the Browns are in nickel he plays left corner and Eric Wright moves over the slot receiver.
--TE Robert Royal was limited in practice Wednesday. He is recovering from an ankle injury.
--QB Josh Freeman did not wear a wrap Thursday on his broken right thumb and practiced at full speed, according to Morris. He will start Sunday against the Browns.
--QB Josh Johnson took all the first-team reps Wednesday as Freeman sat out and has been included in the game plan in the event something happens to the Bucs' starter.
--P Brent Bowden, a sixth-round pick who was released and re-signed to the practice squad, has a chance to be activated for Sunday's game as he competes with newly acquired P Chris Bryan.
--WR Arrelious Benn has come on strong in practice lately, according to offensive coordinator Greg Olson, and could factor in the Bucs game plan Sunday.
--WR Micheal Spurlock is expected to handle both the punt and kickoff return duties against the Browns.