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OVERVIEW Tampa Bay appears to be set at the running back and fullback positions.
Bucs RB Carnell “Cadillac” Williams will enter his second season as a pro. He’ll look to build on what was a very impressive debut. Williams earned the NFL Rookie of the Year award by rushing 290 times for 1,178 yards (4.1 avg.) and six touchdowns in 2005.
Williams has spent the offseason working out in an effort to add more bulk to his 5-foot-10, 217-pound frame. Once organized team activities get underway next month, Williams will focus on improving his blocking and pass-catching skills, which were sub-par last year.
Tampa Bay managed to keep most of its offensive backfield intact this year by signing RB Michael Pittman to a contract extension and re-signing FB Mike Alstott, who put off retirement.
Pittman proved to be a valuable player in 2005, rushing 70 times for 436 yards (6.2 avg.) and one touchdown, and catching 36 passes for 300 yards and one score. If Williams fails to improve his blitz pickup and pass-catching skills, Pittman likely will see a significant amount of playing time in 2006.
Although he’s back for an 11th season, Alstott might not see as much playing time as he did in 2005, which isn’t saying much since the “A-Train” carried the ball just 34 times for 80 yards and caught 25 passes for 222 yards last season.
The recent addition of former New York Jets FB Jerald Sowell, who played an integral role in helping RB Curtis Martin capture the NFL rushing title in 2004 and has soft hands, could limit Alstott’s playing time as a lead blocker and reduce his to role to a short-yardage and goal-line running back. Alstott, who isn’t considered a great lead blocker, was effective near the goal line, scoring a total of seven touchdowns in 2005.
Not only does he help replace Jameel Cook on the roster, Sowell will make it difficult for the Bucs to keep fullbacks Carey Davis, Robert Douglas and Rick Razzano on the active roster this season.
Also in danger of losing his roster spot with the acquisition of Sowell is Earnest Graham, who is capable of playing both running back and fullback. With Cook gone, Graham appeared to have an advantage over running backs Derek Watson and Jacque Lewis because of his versatility, but unless there’s an injury, Graham likely will be hard pressed to earn a 53-man roster spot in 2006.
The Bucs are extremely high on Watson, who turned in an impressive training camp and preseason in 2005. He spent most of the year on the team’s practice squad before being promoted to the active roster toward the end of the regular season in order to prevent the Baltimore Ravens from signing him.
In order for Watson to make the Bucs active roster, he must make an impact on special teams and continue to work on his blitz pickup and pass-catching skills. If Tampa Bay decides to keep three running backs on its roster, Watson likely would be the No. 3 guy behind Williams and Pittman, but he’ll probably get a good fight from Graham.
With Williams, Pittman and Watson already in the stable at the running back position, and Alstott and Sowell ready to compete and play together at fullback, the Bucs don’t feel the need to spend one of their draft picks on a running back or fullback this year.
If the Bucs do invest a draft pick on a running back, Jerious Norwood (Mississippi State), Maurice Drew (UCLA), Brian Calhoun (Wisconsin), Andre Hall (USF), Leon Washington (Florida State), DonTrell Moore (New Mexico), Wali Lundy (Virginia), Taurean Henderson (Texas Tech), Bryson Sumlin (Fresno State), Wendell Mathis (Fresno State), Terrence Whitehead (Oregon) and Quinton Ganther (Utah) could be targets.
With Alstott likely to retire after 2006 and Sowell, 32, believed to be under contract for just one season, the Bucs probably would be more likely to draft a fullback, and Garrett Mills (Tulsa), and David Kirtman (USC) could be on Tampa Bay’s radar on the second day of the draft.
Current Position Grade: B
Bucs Update Publishing Schedule April 22 – Wide Receivers April 22 – Tight Ends April 23 – Offensive Tackles April 23 – Centers/Guards April 24 – Defensive Ends April 25 – Defensive Tackles April 26 – Linebackers April 27 – Cornerbacks April 27 – Safeties April 28 – Kickers/Punters
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