Bucs RB Mike James will be back with the team to start the season. - (Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR)
Running back Mike James has done it all for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In this case, “done it all” refers to his role, relevancy and existence with the team.
James was an NFL Draft pick, selected in the sixth round out of Miami by Tampa Bay in 2013. He’s been a backup. He’s been a starter. He’s rushed for over 100 yards in a game. He’s been a healthy game-day scratch. He’s been inactive due to injury. He’s been on the practice squad. He’s been released. He’s been re-signed. He’s even thrown a pass – a touchdown pass, no less.
All this occurred in the span of three seasons, but most of the good stuff – 100-yard rushing game and the touchdown pass, both in Seattle – came early.
But he keeps coming back for more, determined to remain with the organization and impact the team.
RB Mike James warms up before a game – Photo: Cliff Welch/PR
“That keeps me alive a little bit, man,” James told PewterReport.com after practice Wednesday. “I’m one of those types of people. My life, it’s been a constant fight, so I feel like it wouldn’t be right if it was too easy. I probably wouldn’t be the man I am if it was too easy, so I appreciate the work and I appreciate the competition because it’s honestly going to help me as a man being able to teach somebody else some of this stuff. I’m excited.”
James is in camp for the fourth straight August with Tampa Bay. Like last year, he’s looking up at Doug Martin and Charles Sims on the running back depth chart with a handful of others in town giving chase. UCF grad Storm Johnson has been trying to find an NFL home since 2014 and rookies Peyton Barber (Auburn) and Russell Hansbrough (Missouri) are getting their first tastes of training camp.
The Bucs still have a week until their first preseason game next Thursday in Philadelphia and Wednesday’s practice wrapped up Day 6 of training camp. It’s early, but James has a leg up in the competition to be the next man up behind Martin and Sims as Tampa Bay’s No. 3, running backs coach Tim Spencer said.
“Mike’s pretty solid because he does know what he’s doing and doesn’t make many mistakes,” Spencer said. “I like what I see out of him and his work ethic is on point the way it should be.”
Although his experiences as a professional football player in Tampa Bay have been good, bad and everything in between, it’s his familiarity within the offense and the organization that gives him an early edge.
“The young guys – Storm, Peyton and Russ – I’ve seen good things from them, but I’ve seen a little bit too many mental errors from all three,” Spencer said. “I know it’s all new and the bullets are flying, but we’ve got to be able to perform under pressure. I’ve seen good things from each and every one of them, but I’ve seen too many mental errors, especially in pass protection, which is key for us.
“Storm and Peyton are bigger guys and they’re capable of doing pretty much everything,” Spencer continued. “Those two would be more every-down [backs], Russ would be more of a specialty guy. Although he is a tough runner, I’m not going to take that from him. He’s tough, he will pass protect, but his size can hold him back.”
As for James, the 25-year-old is embracing the competition.
Peyton Barber – Photo: Cliff Welch/PR
“Peyton, Storm, Russell – the guys have the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, they’ve got good feet, they’ve got things we all can build off of,” James said. “So it’s good to have talented guys because it makes everybody else that much better.”
With a healthy Martin-Sims duo, No. 3 backs don’t see much game time with the offense on game days. Bobby Rainey filled that role throughout most of 2015 and carried the ball five times for 18 yards while adding three catches for another 16 yards.
But Rainey increased his value by winning the job as Tampa Bay’s primary punt and kick returner. It’s similar to wide receiver Russell Shepard boosting his worth as a hard-working special teamer.
There are multiple ways for bubble players to stand out and raise their stock, Spencer said, but dedicated special teams work can be the difference maker.
“It’s everything that you’re supposed to do: no mental errors, pass protection, being able to run, seeing the field,” the coach said. “Those guys are going to have to play teams, and if you’re a third guy, Mike included, then you have to be a core special teams guy. Unless you’re one or two, you’re not going to be getting on the field much. If you’re getting on the field a lot [on offense], then that means we’re doing well and we’re winning some games – which I hope we do. But for the most part they’ve got to be special teams guys.”
Running the football, pass protection, special teams, scout team work – at this juncture in his career, James said he’s all in if it means sticking around One Buc Place. Fortifying that mindset was his brief time spent away from the franchise last fall and being on the practice squad or inactive for the entire season. The Bucs released James on Sept. 29, only to pick him back up Oct. 1.
“You have to understand this is a game and you have to appreciate this game each and every day,” James said. “I was at home when I was cut for a day and I felt like it was the worst day of my life. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. So I’m just happy to be here. I’m happy to just compete again and to come out and play this game. It’s a blessing to come out here every year. I been here for four years that’s hard to do to be in the same place and not even play you got be doing something and I’m trying to keep doing that.
“I was thinking about something the other day,” James said. “I told my wife I’ve always said I’ll do anything for the team and life brought it to me. You’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Will you, really?’
“And I will.”
Good attitude Mike! I hope this message is received and understood by the majority of NFL players? Only a few find financial success in the NFL; the rest have to be comfortable they did play in the NFL. It’s important to get the education during and after the NFL.
Well said. Football is only brief part of their lives. The education and experiences, from and provided by football, should set them up for success for the rest of their lives. Go Bucs!
After that Seattle game I thought we struck gold with that late round pick. Then, as Buc luck would have it, #25 got hurt and has not been the same since. We’ll see how it shakes out in pre-season.
Well scubog, it isn’t like James has had the opportunity to shine in the regular season either.
He wouldn’t have even seen the field against Seattle if Martin hadn’t been injured in I think the Atlanta game.
He played a bit afterwards but didn’t impress in his albeit limited opportunities. Perhaps there were lingering effects from the injury.
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