With the departure of running back Cadillac Williams from the Buccaneers earlier this month, the third-down running back position is up for grabs. Williams, who was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2005, played six seasons before signing a one-year contract with the St. Louis Rams August 4.
In his press conference on Wednesday afternoon, head coach Raheem Morris addressed the running back situation with the media. He praised second-year LeGarrette Blount out of Oregon, but he stated that he still needs time in order to become a top player in the league.
“LeGarrette has come a long way,” Morris said. “Not to say that he's going to be a third-down back, but he has certainly come a long way. He understands protections. He really can go out there and execute a couple of them for us. He still makes some mistakes though … he's still a young player. He is still learning something really brand new for him. But he also has No. 5 standing next to him and he leans on him heavy for some of those responsibilities and some of those issues. He also has Faine, who does a great job of pointing out protections and those guys do a nice job of cleaning each other up so he is doing well."
Coach Morris acknowledges that the competition for the third-down back is most likely between third-year Kregg Lumpkin and eight-year veteran out of Florida, Earnest Graham. Although no third-down back has been named, Morris knows that the player can change due to things that happen during the course of the season.
“The competition you have to say was between Lumpkin and Earnest Graham,” Morris said, adding that someone's going to need to assume the "lead dog" role throughout the season. “And as you know that thing could change throughout the season depending on where we are health-wise.”
In addition to Blount, Lumpkin and Graham, Morris likes what he has been seeing out of rookie running back Allen Bradford. Bradford, who played his college football at USC, has impressed the Buccaneers’ head coach with his attitude and running skills, not to mention his play on special teams.
“The guy that's really starting to try to get into the mix is Allen Bradford,” Morris said. “His flash just really came from some of his running skills [and] some of his running demeanor and some of the special teams play. We need him to pick it up a little bit, which I think he will be able to.”
With no official word on who head coach Raheem Morris is favoring, the situation still needs to work itself out over the next two weeks before the Buccaneers open the season September 11 at home against the Detroit Lions.
-Victoria Horchak, Mark Cook contributed to this report