The Buccaneers players are off until they have to report back to Tampa on July 23 to begin what many are hoping and expecting to be a rebound season from the 4-12 disaster of 2013. Excitement abounds with Lovie Smith now in place as the team’s head coach and an influx of new players that the organization hopes fills holes in the roster have fans excited about the possibilities in 2014. While the mood surrounding the franchise is as positive as it has been in a number of years, there are still some areas of concern on the roster.
This week PewterReport.com counts down the five biggest questions heading into training camp. While there are certainly more than five, these are the ones that we have the most questions about and will intently be watching once camp opens.
No. 2: WHAT WILL THE BUCCANEERS RUNNING BACK ROTATION LOOK LIKE?Players In The Mix: Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Jeff Demps, Mike James, Bobby Rainey, Brendan Bigelow, Lonnie Pryor, Jorvorskie LaneSmith has said multiple times that Martin is their starting running back and that should not change as the Buccaneers head into the start of the regular season. The former Boise State Bronco had an outstanding rookie season in 2012, running for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns, but the 5-foot-9, 215 pound rusher suffered a torn labrum and ended up on injured reserve last season. The 25-year old running back has fully recovered and is ready for training camp and the 2014 season. Martin’s ability to run, catch, and block will be relied on heavily in 2014, but he won’t be overworked by the new Buccaneers coaching staff.
Most Buccaneers fans were shocked when general manager Jason Licht decided to use the team’s third-round pick on West Virginia’s Sims, despite having Martin, Rainey and Mike James already on the roster. Sims is a fantastic receiving running back, showcasing great hands, suddenness and route-running ability on a consistent basis. The 6-foot, 214 pound rusher piled up 1,095 on 208 carries as a senior for the Mountaineers.
At just 5-foot-7, 191 pounds, Demps looks more like a track athlete than a football player, but the former Florida Gator is electric with the ball in his hands. Demps makes unbelievably quick cuts and is extremely fast to the edge. Head coach Lovie smith said that Demps is the fastest guy in the league and the 24-year old back also offers a ton of upside on special teams as a kick and punt returner. He’s been a standout player throughout OTAs and mini-camp, but the challenge for Demps will come in training camp when the pads are on, where the world will find out if he can hold up physically.
James and Rainey are also in the mix for playing time at the running back position. Both backs stepped in when Martin went down with a shoulder injury and played extremely well. James ran for 158 yards against a very stout Seattle Seahawks defense last season and Rainey had two 100-yard games coming against Buffalo and Atlanta. With the ability to run, block and catch, both running backs are well-rounded and have legitimate NFL talent.
Also on the roster are fullbacks Pryor and Lane, and Bigelow, an undrafted free agent halfback, but it’s unlikely that any of those players factor into the running back rotation in 2014.
PewterReport.com’s Early Running Back Rotation: Martin, Sims, Demps and Rainey Martin and Sims are the only locks to make the final 53-man roster out of the five running backs in contention. Martin should handle most of the early down work with Sims spelling him and contributing on passing downs.
Here is where things start to get interesting. James and Rainey, who are in their second year, are competing with Demps, a speed demon, for spots on the team’s final roster. While the Bucs could keep all five of their backs, it seems more likely that they roll with four when they head into the regular season.
The speedy Demps’ ability to make an impact in space and on special teams likely gives him the inside track to a spot on the final 53-man roster. Offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford’s offense is based around speed in open areas, and the former Florida Gator is one of the fastest players in the NFL.
That leaves Rainey and James as the last two contending backs with just one spot left. James is a very solid running back with legitimate NFL talent, but in Tedford’s new-look offense Rainey has the slight edge heading into training camp. Rainey can contribute on special teams, passing downs and as a reserve runner.
TRAINING CAMP QUESTIONS SERIES SCHEDULETraining Camp Question No. 5 – Nickel Cornerbacks (Monday)Training Camp Question No. 4 – Left Defensive End (Tuesday)Training Camp Question No. 3 – Guards (Wednesday) Training Camp Question No. 2 – Running Backs (Thursday)Training Camp Question No. 1 – Third Wide Receiver (Friday)
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