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March 3, 2014 @ 4:07 pm
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Pewter Report 2014 Bucs' Free Agency Preview: RBs

Written by Scott
Scott Reynolds


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With the start of 2014 NFL free agency fast approaching, PewterReport.com reviews the Bucs' current roster and previews potential fits at each position. Today's position is running backs and fullbacks. Will the Bucs re-sign FB Erik Lorig?
With free agency scheduled to begin at 4:00 p.m. on March 11,
PewterReport.com beings you its annual free agency preview by position.
Starting Monday, PewterReport.com will take a look at what Bucs will become free
agents at each position, who the Bucs have under contract at the
previewed position, then take a look at five players that could fit into
Tampa Bay's plans, known as the Bucs' Best Bets. Today it's Tampa Bay's running backs, followed by wide receivers tomorrow.

Tampa Bay’s starting fullback Erik Lorig, backup fullback Spencer Larsen and Brian Leonard, who was a third-down back last year, will be unrestricted free agents. Lorig has a chance to return, but Leonard, who played for former head coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers and just turned 30, likely won’t be offered a new contract. With the team opting for Lorig as its fullback, Tampa Bay may not re-sign Larsen in March.

Running back may be the most well stocked position in Tampa Bay, and there is a chance the team does not even add a new one in free agency. Instead, the Bucs may just sign an undrafted free agent or two to compete with the likes of Doug Martin, a Pro Bowler in 2012, Bobby Rainey, Mike James, Jeff Demps and Michael Smith.

Martin is coming off an injury-shortened season in which he only rushed for 456 yards and one touchdown in six games. As a rookie, Martin produced 1,454 yards and averaged 4.6 yards while rushing for a franchise-best 11 touchdowns. The Bucs replaced him with James, a rookie, last year when Martin needed season-ending shoulder surgery in Week 8.

James rushed for 295 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry, and threw a touchdown pass before breaking his ankle against . Rainey, who was signed mid-season as an injury replacement, showed great speed in ripping off a pair of long touchdown runs, including an 80-yarder against Buffalo, to rack up a total of six scores in nine games. Rainey led the Bucs in rushing in 2013 with 566 yards on 150 carries (3.8 avg.).

Demps, who joined the Bucs after track season prior to the start of the season, only played in two games before tearing his groin and being lost for the season. The speedy Demps had one run for 14 yards and three catches for 21. Smith has spent the first two seasons on injured reserve after trying to make the roster as a kick returner and a reserve running back.

At fullback, the Bucs currently have an unproven commodity in Lonnie Pryor, so the team will have to re-sign Lorig, Larsen or find another fullback.

Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford will deploy a two-running back system in which carries will be split between a lead back and a change of pace back. Because of his talent, experience and production, Martin is the early favorite to be the lead back, and Rainey and James will likely duke it for the right to be the backup.

Demps is the fastest Buccaneer on the team and the Olympic sprinter might be the fastest player in the NFL. Tedford loves speed and Demps can be used as a situational back and also as a slot receiver. Those four players fit the size and skill set requirements for Tedford and the team may not have to address the running back position in free agency at all outside of possibly trying to re-sign Lorig or add a fullback for short-yardage, lead blocking situations.

1. Tampa Bay FB Erik Lorig

The Buccaneers want to keep the versatile Lorig, who can block and catch, and are working on re-signing him to a long-term deal. The 6-foot-4, 250-pounder should be able to be kept for less than $1 million per season, which is what he made in 2013. Lorig missed the preseason and one game with a calf injury last year, but did manage to catch 11 passes for 47 yards. His career best came in 2012 when he had 12 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown while helping block for Doug Martin’s Pro Bowl rookie season.

2. Houston FB Greg Jones
Jones has been one of the most underrated blocking backs in the NFL, but just look at what happened to Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville after Jones left. Jones-Drew had three straight seasons of 1,300 yards rushing or more and then fell off to 414 yards in 2012 in an injury-shortened season, followed by a disappointing 803-yard campaign in 2013 without Jones. The 6-foot-1, 251-pounder has rushed for 913 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career, in addition to catching 73 passes for 471 yards and three scores. The only downside for Jones, a Florida State product, is that he is 33 and is more of a stop-gap player than a long-term solution at fullback.

3. Minnesota RB Toby Gerhart
Tedford will deploy a power running game in Tampa Bay and power is Gerhart’s best attribute. Stuck behind Adrian Peterson, the former Vikings second-round pick has only rushed for 1,305 yards and five touchdowns while rushing for 4.7 yards and an impressive 2.8 yards per carry after contact. Gerhart has also caught 77 passes for 600 yards and three touchdowns. At 6-foot-1, 231 pounds, Gerhart doesn’t quite fit the mold of what a Bucs running back looks like under Tedford, but he could come cheap and fit into G.M. Jason Licht’s model of finding value in free agency. Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier coached Gerhart in Minnesota.

4. Pittsburgh RB LaRod Stephens-Howling
Stephens-Howling spent the first four years of his NFL career playing in Arizona before signing a one-year deal with Pittsburgh to play in his home state of Pennsylvania. He tore his ACL in the season opener, but is expected to be healthy enough to participate in OTAs in April. As a Cardinal, Stephens-Howling rushed for 670 yards and five touchdowns (3.6 avg.), caught 58 passes for 545 yards and three scores and returned three kickoffs for touchdowns as a situational player. He might be the kind of value free agent Licht, who spent the past two years in Arizona, is looking for.

5. Tennessee RB Leon Washington
Washington has returned eight kickoffs for touchdowns while playing for Seattle and the New York Jets, and the Jacksonville native and Florida State product might want to return to his home state to finish out his NFL career. At age 31, Washington wouldn’t be signed to do more than return kicks and punts in Tampa Bay, but he has rushed for 2,214 yards and 16 touchdowns in his nine-year career, in addition to catching 146 passes for 1,127 yards and two scores. In five games last year in Tennessee, Washington averaged 30 yards per kick return for the Titans and had a 95-yard return.

1. Denver RB Knowshon Moreno
Moreno, a first-round pick in 2009, was a disappointment for his first four years in Denver, but began running with greater toughness and determination in 2013 and eclipsed 1,000 yards. Still, it’s not enough for the Broncos to want to keep the versatile runner-receiver, even at slightly more than his $3.415 million salary last year.

2. Jacksonville RB Maurice Jones-Drew
Coming off a season in which he made $7.6 million and rushed for 803 yards, the Jaguars feel it’s time to move on to a more affordable, productive option. Jones-Drew is two years removed from three consecutive seasons of over 1,300 yards rushing.

3. Oakland RB Rashad Jennings
After not making a mark in Jacksonville, Jennings broke out in Oakland where he rushed for 733 yards and six touchdowns playing for the injury-prone Darren McFadden, who is also a free agent. Yet is Jennings a one-year wonder?

4. Indianapolis RB Donald Brown
Brown is a good, but not great back that flashed at the end of the season in Indianapolis as Trent Richardson flamed out. The tough-running Brown averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2013, but he’s not an elite back and shouldn’t get paid like one.

5. New England RB LeGarrette Blount
Blount edges Houston’s Ben Tate for the fifth spot based upon how he finished the 2013 campaign. Blount rushed for 772 yards and seven TDs, including 189 yards and two TDs in the season finale against Buffalo and 166 yards and four scores against Indianapolis in the playoffs.

Up Next: Wide Receivers

Last modified on Wednesday, 05 March 2014 07:53

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  • avatar

    Lorig played TE at Stanford and needs to be kept because he can sub at TE in a pinch and has been a good fullback and special teams player and catches passes. Our FSU fullback is a good power runner for short yardage and can backup Lorig. Rainey has good speed in space and can be just what Tedford needs--like Sproles. James should alternate with our star RB. Don't see that we need to waste money on any outsiders, and Leonard is the best third down blocker and back in that situation. Keep him too.
  • avatar

    I say we resign lorig we don't need any other running backs now with james with 3 years left on his rookie deal and rainey staying for another year
  • avatar

    I would be all over Gerhart,he is the perfect compliment and a much needed asset to close out games.Rainy is a nice story but very one dementional and similar to James. Jones is a stud that never got the opportunity to get carries in the NFL perhaps due to an old knee injury . If given the ball he would avg close to four a carry and run for a thousand even at 33.This guy has probably been the most wasted and miss used talent in the NFL, his coaches should be hung, Jone Drew or not.Greg Jones never blocked anyone prior to the NFL but was one of the most impressive RB 's I have ever seen, a lil like blount but faster and much better at the line of scrimmage,what a waste!! IF They would have ever subbed him and given him 20 plus carries when drew was hurt they would have shatt !!
  • avatar

    They just don't use fullbacks like they did when Alstott was around... I dont think the NFL will ever see the fullback get the ball in critical spots like they used to. Therefore, a fullback just can't be horrible. The FB is more of a wild card in a play call now. Lorig seems fine, but anyone else would do too.
  • avatar

    I am not excited by Lorig at fulback. I'd rather take a chance on new blood and hope for a good blocker that can catch a pass.
  • avatar

    I think Lorig can catch and is underutilized in the passing game. I don't think he's a good runner, but I'd like to re-sign him. I like a lot of the guys in the "Bucs Best Bet" and "Top 5 Running Backs" sections, but I don't think any of them are a good match for where we are as a team. I think many of those would fit well for the Browns, but the only thing we need to identify is a young speed back and there are none on either list. I would just roll the dice that either Michael Smith or Demps can stay healthy and fill that role.
  • avatar

    Lorig can catch and is a very good blocker so he'll be moved to tight end to complement Wright. Just a guess.
  • avatar

    Good reality check in todays Tampa Bay Times paper for me because it's all about rebuilding starts now and many of our players will be gone that are on the cuff, getting too old and not there once the team has been rebuilt, and just too costly to keep because of their salary. So here is what I am doing if I am the GM and Coach. Tell Joseph, Penn, Nicks, Zuttah, both kickers, Williams, Jackson, Revis, Goldson the Safety, are all taking 20% cuts. Seek a trade for anybody except McCoy, Little, Barron, Golston the DE, Banks, Glennon, Dotson; everybody else is trade bait. This is the GM and Coach only year that trust me might count and I would use that card quickly and often.
  • avatar

    I don't think you know how the NFL works...
  • avatar

    Day 5 & still can't get my new image approved by PR. Common Man!! Just want to change with the times. --I really do believe the Bucs' are solid in the RB room. Mike James didn't have long in the spotlight, but Tedford mentioned him by name at the podium & not Martin. (Not that Martin isn't going to be the starter) but James may have the initial lead over Rainey in the minds of the coaches. Otherwise I like keeping Lorig + the 3 Backs mentioned. --Demps has shown me nothing. Yep, he's fast. BUT, He can't take a punch. He needs lots of work, & his time is too divided for him to be able to put in the time he needs to develop. Football is his mistress, not his first love. I don't like that mindset. Better to look in UFA's for some speed (albeit, not as much) ST's talent, and players who really love it. --Blount. I Love Blount. I still have his jersey that I wore to the Cincy game back in the Yungry days. Blount didn't play & Sabby saved the day. It was all very confusing. I just can't see putting any $$ into the RB spot. Every year we see Warhorses come out of nowhere. And I would want confidence in my OLine (confidence we shouldn't have) before I'd spend $$ on someone running behind it.
  • avatar

    I would like to see more of a running and receiving threat from the FB position than Lorig has been. Not sure we saw enough of Michael James before his injury to stand pat at the position entirely. Perhaps a priority free-agent who didn't get drafted or a young veteran who failed to excite like Donald Brown or dare I say LeGarrette Blount. Who strikes more fear in the opponent; Rainey or Blount?
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