Beat Writer & Videographer
The Buccaneers spent their bye week getting running backs Kareem Huggins and LeGarrette Blount up to speed so that they can contribute on offense.
Through the first quarter of the 2010 NFL season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are ranked No. 20 in rushing offense. If you add in the fact that the Bucs have only played three games while most of the NFL has played four, then you might not think that is a bad ranking.
However, things are not always what they appear. Starting running back Cadillac Williams has just 139 yards thus far and is averaging a mere 2.5 yards per carry. Fullback Earnest Graham has just 24 yards on 11 carries (2.2 avg.) and has coughed it up once. Things have been so bad in the backfield that quarterback Josh Freeman appears to be the team’s best weapon in the ground game with 92 yards on 12 carries (7.7 avg.)
During their early bye week the Bucs’ coaching staff tried to rectify the problems with their rushing offense and it starts with getting second-year pro Kareem Huggins healthy and rookie LeGarrette Blount caught up with the playbook.
“Hopefully we get Kareem back this week off the injury bug and LeGarrette has earned the right to have a helmet on at least so that will definitely be a part of the talks this week,” said head coach Raheem Morris. “So we will be fired up to see these guys play. We will be fired up to get them their touches and runs and these guys are forming their roles so to speak.”
While Blount saw his first NFL action and gained 27 yards and one touchdown in Week 3 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Huggins has been out dealing with injuries. After leading the Bucs in rushing during the preseason with 134 yards on 25 carries (5.4 avg.), Huggins has been inactive the past two games with a groin injury. He saw some action in Week 1 against the Browns, but did not receive a single carry. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson says the Huggins will be used to help keep Williams fresh during games.
“He’s a great change-of-pace back for us,” said Olson. “He’s got great speed – legitimate speed – I think we all witnessed that in preseason, but it will be nice to have him back and get a chance to see what he can do because we have not got the chance to see it in a regular season game… He’ll be able spell Cadillac and give Cadillac that rest that we think he needs.”
While he is anxious to see some of the electric ability that Huggins possesses and the bruising power of Blount, Morris does not want to force those players into any situations. He wants to see what they can do during the course of the game as things unfold.
“We know Kareem showed some dynamic speed that we'd like to see come alive in the season for us that we have not seen yet, which is going to be fun, but we will put those guys out there and let them go,” said Morris. “You don’t want to dictate what they are going to do. Let the game come to those guys.”
Right now, Williams is averaging 18.3 carries per contest. Olson knows that his 28-year-old halfback cannot keep getting that many touches and expect to hold up over a full season. During the bye week, Olson and his staff worked on getting Huggins and Blount up to speed with everything so that they can be ready to help take some of the pressure off Williams during crucial moments.
“Particularly in our case where we have Cadillac Williams who had two major knee surgeries, rehabbed, and has done a tremendous job of coming back as a player, but at this point in his career he is a guy that needs the rest,” said Olson. “I think the younger the player, the easier it is to hand them the ball on a carry. Obviously, there is a tremendous amount of trust in Cadillac to get lined up correctly, to know the blitz checks, to know his protection assignment, and so there is some trust factor there as well that Kareem and LeGarrette are earning with us right now. So, we need to get Cadillac a rest and make sure he is fresh when he is in the game.”
Now that Morris has three capable running backs in Williams, Huggins, and Blount, he has to find a way to distribute the ball amongst his backs. One thing what Morris will not be doing is using the 2-2-1 rotation that he started the season with last year for Williams, former running back Derrick Ward, and Graham.
“We dictate the game on what we want to do with our openers then usually somebody steps out the box and becomes the hot guy and we’ll just have to see what is going on with the game, and tempo, and pace of what we want to do,” said Morris. “And who knows, we are still young. Those are still two young players we are talking about in LeGarrette Blount and Kareem Huggins. Neither one of them have played in a full-time aspect for us in game. It’s two young players in two different roles and they are just trying to help their team win.”
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