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Earnest Graham vs. Derek Watson
This time last year, the training camp battle to watch at the Bucs’ running back position was between then-rookie Cadillac Williams and veteran Michael Pittman.

One year later, Williams is coming off a 1,000-yard season and has the NFL Rookie of the Year award and Tampa Bay’s starting tailback position under his belt.

Although he’s no longer the starter, Pittman proved to be a valuable backup and contributor in 2005 and will enter training camp as the undisputed backup behind Williams.

That leaves four running backs – Earnest Graham, Andre Hall, Jacque Lewis and Derek Watson – to battle for what could be just one available roster spot this year.

Many deemed Hall a steal after the Bucs signed the undrafted free agent from USF, who was projected to go as high as the third round by some draft pundits. However, The 5-foot-10, 215-pound Hall has struggled with head coach Jon Gruden’s playbook and will be hard pressed to make the 53-man roster.

Hall’s best chance of sneaking his way onto the active roster is by solidifying the kickoff and punt return jobs. Otherwise, he looks like a practice squad candidate.

This will be the second training camp Lewis (5-10, 192) participates in with the Bucs, but like Hall, the odds appear to be stacked quite high against Lewis, who spent the offseason playing in NFL Europe.

That said, the training camp battle to watch at the running back position likely will be between Graham and Watson.

Graham (5-9, 225) quietly held onto an active roster spot throughout the 2005 regular season. He saw a limited amount of action on offense, carrying the ball 28 times for 83 yards (3.0 avg.), but he did make a tremendous impact on special teams, where he notched 18 tackles, which ranked tied for fourth on the team.

Watson (6-0, 223) spent most of 2005 on Tampa Bay’s practice squad, but he was promoted to the active roster on Nov. 29 after the Baltimore Ravens attempted to pick him up off of the Bucs’ taxi squad and sign him to their active roster.

Graham and Watson had an impressive preseason in 2005, and they’ll likely get plenty of playing time again this summer.

Watson, who is more of a north- and south-type runner, used his powerful frame to rush for 121 yards on 37 carries (3.2 avg.) in preseason last year. However, Graham fared even better, carrying the ball 36 times for 158 yards (4.3 avg.).

Graham needs to work on his pass-catching ability and do a better job of securing the football while Watson will need to improve his blitz pickup and pass-catching skills.

While there’s a chance the Bucs could keep both Graham and Watson on the active rsoter, the advantage appears to go to Graham, who is more versatile (can play fullback and tailback) and experienced than Watson, and has already established himself as a special teams contributor.

Advantage: Earnest Graham



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