Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Bucs beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.

Sikkema’s Stat of the Week

Even if you’re not a big fan of teams prioritizing running backs in the draft, the Ronald Jones pick had to make you feel good – unless you didn’t like Jones pre-draft, I suppose. I was in that “feel good” camp. I am someone who doesn’t believe premium picks should be used on running backs (we’ll get to the data on that later), but when the Bucs selected Ronald Jones No. 38 overall in last year’s draft, I thought it was a great selection.

Jones was the fifth running back taken in the draft, and was coincidentally my fifth-ranked running back in the class – albeit Derrius Guice was in my Top 5 and wasn’t one of the Top 5 backs selected. Despite being my fifth running back, Jones was still No. 28 on my board, which goes to show how talented I thought that running back class was. Though I believe any of the guys I had ranked above Jones would have fit in Tampa just fine via overall talent, I knew that the team really liked the outlook for Peyton Barber as a bigger back, and Jones’ style was set up to be a perfect compliment. When the ink dried on Tampa’s draft haul, you had to be happy with how it looked.

But when it came to Jones, that was about as happy as Bucs fans would be with him in 2018.

Jones’ struggles started in training camp where he was never able to overtake Barber as the lead back. In fact, he was used as RB3 and RB4 more than RB2 or RB1 during camp. That showed in the preseason. Jones recorded just 28 yards on 22 carries in his four-game preseason stint, which came out to a whopping 0.8 yards-per-carry average.

Bucs RB Ronald Jones II - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Those struggles continued into the regular season. Not only could Jones not crack the starting running back rotation, he wasn’t even active on game days for the first three weeks of the season – Jones didn’t even know that there were a handful of players who made the 53-man roster who weren’t active on game days. When he did finally get some game time action, it was either in garbage time in the Chicago game or not very productive – or a mixture of both.

Jones ended the regular season with just 44 yards on 23 carries and one touchdown in a span of nine games in which he was active. Of all 20 running backs who were drafted in 2018, only two finished the season with less total rushing yards than Jones, and none had a yards-per-carry average less than the Bucs rookie.

But that was last year, and 2019 is a new year. There are plenty of rookies who do not pan out right away in their first year, so a down 2018 season is no nail in the coffin for Jones. After all, Jones was a 20-year-old young adult who moved across the entire country to a new place with new people and a new life. An adjustment period is very natural for any person in any walk of life at that point in time. But make no mistake, though Jones isn’t going to get cut before training camp or anything, his clock is ticking louder to become at least a serviceable running back.

Why? Because in an article written by Riley McAtee of The Ringer, he explains how running backs are more replaceable than ever due to players doing more with less.

In 2018, teams have rushed the football an average of 25.9 times per game, which would be the lowest figure in league history. That number has been trending downward for some time — the previous low was set in 2016 (26.0 rushes per game), and the low before that was set in 2015 (26.3). Yet despite this de-emphasis of rushing, NFL teams are averaging 4.4 yards per carry this year, which would be the highest mark in league history.

This isn’t even about draft position and how you value running back selections – though the data does certainly lend itself on the side of not prioritizing running backs, in most cases, due to again how much running backs are now doing with less work. This is about replacement value.

This is why watching Todd Gurley not even get used in the Super Bowl after signing a $45M contract makes you re-think some things. This is why the Steelers letting Le’Veon Bell sit out the entire year after averaging 104.2 rushing yards per game (3.8 YPC) just to see the team rush for 93.9 yards per game and yet 4.3 YPC in 2018 without him makes you wonder if it really is worth it to move on sometimes.

Case and point, in almost every single instance – even at the very top – if you’re a running back, you’re replaceable as long as your system is good.

Now, that last part is still something Tampa Bay is figuring out. The Rams had the passing efficiency to be able to move the ball without Gurley, and the Steelers under Mike Munchak had an offensive line that moved like a well-oiled machine. Tampa Bay had neither of those, despite finishing in the Top 3 in passing offense and total offense in terms of yards gained.

Bucs RB Ronald Jones III - Photo by: Mary Holt/PR
Bucs RB Ronald Jones III – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR

It’s about efficiency more than it is output. It’s often the small numbers, not the big ones, that hold the keys to success. It’s not about how many total yards you get, it’s about how easy it was for you to obtain them. When it comes to running backs, numbers say that in today’s age of football even the best are replaceable – sometimes even if they’re replaced by Day 3 and even undrafted players.

For Jones, it wasn’t all on him, and we’ll get to that on the next page when we take a deep dive into his film from 2018. But, he better make sure he’s doing everything he can to make his case for new head coach Bruce Arians, new offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, new run game coordinator Harold Goodwin and new running backs coach Todd McNair. Because being a second-round pick only grants you one year of exemption.

After that, it doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re not efficient with the ball on however many carries you get, they’ll find someone who is – they’re everywhere.

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Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: [email protected]

38 COMMENTS

  1. Was it Jones fault for not being a good player or …Was it Licht’s fault for the 2nd round pick?

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    • Just a guess but if RoJo was drafted by KC, NE, PIT, or NO in the 2nd round, I’m betting you would say how bad Licht was for NOT drafting him when he had the chance.

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      Rating: +41. From 47 votes.
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      • Yes, and there are people in this comments section who still can’t get over the fact we didn’t pickup Derwin James in the first round last year, even though the bigger need was the DL. Still is if McCoy is cut or traded.

        There are plenty of teams in NFL where Jones could have had far more success his rookie season than he did with the Bucs. Derwin James would not have had anywhere near as much success his rookie season playing as a Buccaneer as he did playing for the Chargers.

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      • NOT the way he has played so far .:>)

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  2. This is on Jason Licht and the scouts. I would say let’s see what Arian’s thinks. If he can’t work out under Arians then cut him. Licht has a reputation now for completely screwing up 2nd round picks. He should be told to leave the room this year and let Arians pick the player in that round.

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    Rating: -1. From 39 votes.
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    • He didn’t screw up with Carlton Davis, and the jury is out on MJ Stewart and Spence. Justin Evans was a rock solid pick, and he could be a star in the league if he can stay healthy. Donovan Smith is going to make big money no matter what you think of him and Ali Marpet should have been to a couple of Pro Bowls by now.

      The one bust Licht picked in the 2nd round over the past 4 years was Austin Sefarian-Jenkins in 2014, his first year as GM.

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      Rating: +15. From 27 votes.
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      • And Aguayo obviously lol. But I agree for the most part. Most of the players he’s taken have either been drastically misused or never developed. Hard to say for sure what guys like Spence would have done had he never been injured after a promising start to his career, or Donovan had he been developed by someone other than Warhop, or ASJ had he not been a head case. Licht hasn’t been perfect, but he’s far from the disaster some people try to paint him as.

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        Rating: +17. From 21 votes.
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        • Forgot about that nightmare.

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      • …. and Noah Spence…. Though I want to believe new coaching staff will pay dividends for this guy….

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    • Even better yet hold a contest for fans to pick the 2nd rd pick. Fan night a Ray Jay. Your winner will come from the fans. Can”t do any worse that Jason in the 2nd.

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  3. Take the time to fix the O-Line and then re-evaluate. LeVeon Bell or Todd Gurley would’ve had crappy numbers behind that atrocious line last year.

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    Rating: +44. From 46 votes.
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  4. We should have went Derwin James last year and Derrius Guice instead of Ronald Jones, I would rather have a torn ACL Derrius Guice than Ronald Jones who was obviously just a product of the system he was in at USC. Jason Licht really dropped the ball last year and it set our team back another couple years.

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    Rating: -25. From 51 votes.
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    • I like Derwin James. He wouldn’t have been the same player in Tampa.

      McCoy cant play anymore. The Bucs brought in Allen, Unrein, Curry, JPP, Nassib and drafted Vea last year to get “face of the team” 9 year veteran GMC singled up. The depth was supposed to give GMC plenty of plays off so he had “fresh legs” late in the game. He still couldn’t produce. His numbers were almost identical to the previous year. DT is where the need was.

      The Chargers got pressure and top 5 DL play from Mebane, Bosa and Ingram primarily, causing mistakes by the opposing QB and putting James in position to make plays.

      It starts up front, not in the back.

      Regarding Guice vs RoJo…
      RoJo had more carries, yards, yards per carry and touchdowns last year.
      Your best ability is your availability.

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      Rating: +21. From 31 votes.
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      • That’s a bs excuse regarding Derwin James. I’m also an FSU fan, he was going to be a Pro Bowler no matter what. Not necessarily last season, but I would still take 7 games of Mike Smith miss using him, than not having him at all and having Vea.

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        Rating: -10. From 12 votes.
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        • BS excuse? Ok. I’m trying to think of a team that had a great safety like James, but an ineffective d-line.

          Still thinking. Hmmm.

          You let me know if you come up with an example of a defense that was good and was lead by a rookie at safety but had a 29th ranked d-line.

          Chargers were a top 3 defense in 2017. BEFORE DERWIN JAMES.
          Chargers were 8th ranked defense in 2018. WITH DERWIN JAMES.

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  5. Trevor;
    There were no holes for Jones in his first introduction to the NFL, known as preseason. He was always being hit in the backfield. This carried into the regular season as the offensive line over the last several years has not created any room for Martin, Barber or Jones. Not defending Jones as he was running timid but I believe the anticipation and reality of having no holes and constantly being hit in the backfield destroyed his confidence.
    The day that Logan Mankins retired this offensive line took a giant step backwards as Mankins was a mentor to the young players and demanded their effort and accountability. Check the Buccaneers rushing totals in Mankins last year.
    Saying all that to say this. I think Jones will have a rebound year not just because he has the talent but more importantly because the offensive line will become a strength in 2019. Coaching, teaching and accountability are finally back in Tampa.

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    Rating: +45. From 49 votes.
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    • Great observation Vinnie. Throw in the fact that RoJo was only 20 years old it’s easy yo see why his psyche was damaged. Bruce seems to understand that aspect more than his predecessor. Jameis too had his moxie wane a bit.

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      Rating: +2. From 4 votes.
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  6. Some RB’s struggle in the first year and figure it out in the 2ND yr Melvin Gordon comes to mind. I think they give him at least this year unless he starts fumbling or something. Right now it cost us nothing but a roster spot to see what he can be.

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    • and a 2nd rd pick

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      • hold a contest for fans to pick the 2nd rd pick. Fan night a Ray Jay. Your winner will come from the fans. Can”t do any worse that Jason in the 2nd.

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  7. I think it was more on really bad O Line play and really bad O line coaching. I think Jones has a bounce back season. 600-800 rushing yards, 5 + TDs rushing.

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    Rating: +25. From 31 votes.
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  8. Barber had decent runs behind same o-line, we must improve our o-line, i would not pick a back until the 4th round. Jones should be cut his style does not match our o-line talent.

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    Rating: -20. From 28 votes.
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  9. I think Jones will either completely turn it around this year or just be average, I don’t think he will completely bust. Yes Barber had the same line but Jones didn’t know the Linemen and their play and tendencies at all so he did not have any chance to salvage plays or squeeze out yardage like Barber did because he had was either getting blown up behind the line or did not have a chance to play enough to get the vision to read when things fell apart. I feel like the 2 practice situation is gonna help so many players find their way thins year and instead of getting shoved down the priority line they will get a chance to get their reps and get comfortable and the right ones will make their way to the Number 1 Team. I think at worst Jones will get more comfortable and at least be avg with 2.8-3.0 YPC this year, but at best he could really find his place and be a guy that could start taking off and be a Homerun threat. That being said as long as he finds average play he will get another year after this one, but if I’m wrong and he never finds his way then he may not make it through this season…

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    Rating: +18. From 20 votes.
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  10. The poor play of our offensive line certain,y contributed to the inefficiency of the entire offense at times, despite their stellar ranking.
    If not for Winston’s high efficiency numbers when being forced out of the pocket, it could have been much worse. Read that a few times BucAss, you need to.
    RoJo also had trouble catching the ball coming into the regular season along with his pass blocking. When you combine the two, defenses almost knew he was going to run the ball wben he came into the game so they were able to tee off on him.
    It’s good to see on film that his pass blocking has improved and if he can improve his hands, which I think be can, that should make defenses play him more respectfully. He has to improve his pass catching because I don’t think BA will keep him around if he doesn’t.
    But it is still a puzzle to me that we would draft a RB so high who had very little experience catching the ball out of the back field.

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    Rating: +17. From 19 votes.
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    • Buc Ass Bob only sees the interceptions and is blind to the rest of Jameis’ game.

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  11. Well, there were several reasons for Jones’s lack of production in 2018. From the get go, Dirk has stated and shown he is not high on rookie RBs. This resulted in a lack of confidence in Jones. The OL was certainly a huge influence as we had one of the worst run blocking lines in the league. I can’t even count the number of times he was hit before getting to the line of scrimmage. Not just hit, but swallowed. I also remember watching plays when he was in the game and 9 times out of 10, it was a run to Rojo. The defense knew this and stacked the box. Hard for most backs to do well when the defense knows they’re getting the ball nearly every time they’re on the field. Not to mention his rookie season at just 20 years old.

    But the biggest issue with Rojo was the number 23. Yep, the TOTAL number of snaps he got throughout 16 games. That only averaged out to roughly 2 rushes a game. No way to build confidence, vision, and a feel for the NFL game without a larger sample size. Not to mention when he failed, they took him out the rest of the game. That was on Dirk. He should have rode him the last few games of the season when we were out of contention.

    So a 20 year old back, in his rookie season, with a terrible run blocking OL, with a head coach known for little confidence in rookie RBs, with very limited opportunities, in a vertical scheme that prioritizes passing over running, with the defense aware he’s getting the ball and 2 carries average per game. Hmmmmm. I’m not as concerned as most are.

    I say give him the entire year (unless of course he bombs bad) with a BETTER COACHING STAFF, improved OL, confidence from Arians, and load him up with opportunities throughout training camp and preseason and I guarantee we will see vast improvement. Give Rojo a crease and we will see a different back.

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    Rating: +30. From 36 votes.
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    • You nailed it! Dirk didn’t want to play Devonta Freeman and many thought he was a bust his first year. I think we will be suprised at how well a lot of our players are going to play with better coaching. Great point!

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      Rating: +18. From 20 votes.
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  12. I was disappointed of course but I hardly would call him a bust like most are.

    Would I cut him? Hell no that would be big mistake. The kid has talent and speed. He needs better coaching and better O line play. I don’t know if just bad luck but over half his bad runs there was clearly penetration in backfield that killed the play. Fix the O line and you will improve a lot of things.

    As far as time he needs at least this season with new coaches and better o line play to determine if he will cut it or not.

    Will be interesting to see what Arians staff can do with him.

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    Rating: +16. From 18 votes.
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  13. “He would get the handoff and immediately cover the ball with two hands, clearly focused more on not fumbling..” This is called “playing not to lose”, and Koetter’s time as a Bucs coach can be summed up the same way.

    Rojo obviously has plenty of talent. He’s no Saquon Barkley or AP in his prime, but everything I saw of him on film while he was at USC points to a guy with loads of talent. When he got to camp, he was not prepared for the speed of the NFL, but that’s as much on the coaching staff as it is on Rojo. If Rojo gets coached up as well as we hope all of the players do under BA and crew, and Rojo works hard during the offseason to get bigger and continue working on his blocking and receiving skills, there is no reason why he can’t eventually become the feature back next season and run for 1000 yards.

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    Rating: +12. From 16 votes.
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  14. I think RoJo has a good chance to be a bounce-back player in 2019. He will get plenty of coaching from the new coaches. He will get plenty of reps to find comfort in the new system. He will get some mentoring from Ellington in Arians system. He has a year of experience in the NFL and knows what the grind is all about. He will be 100% healthy.

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    Rating: +9. From 15 votes.
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  15. Glad to see most people are rational here. Anybody with a pulse should be able to see that the issues with Jones extended well beyond Jones himself. Lack of creativity and predictability, the worst run blocking OL in the league, and sporadic playing time will kill any player’s confidence. Hopefully Arians will actually find ways to get him the ball and, more importantly, space to run. That starts with improving the horses up front. We don’t do that, you can kiss a running game goodbye…I don’t care who we line up back there. We can’t keep pretending that giving up the league’s worst average YPC before first contact is a running back problem.

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    Rating: +12. From 12 votes.
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  16. No patience, just HOPE!
    Go Bucs
    And good luck to you, Trevor, facing those Salty Dogs on Monday

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  17. Can you Imagine what our Offense could do with at least a Solid Oline?! Winston wouldn’t have to force so many throws and would turn the ball over at least 50%-60% less, we could have an above average running game with the guys we have (Barber, Jones, and even Ellington) and we could go from 3rd-4th rated Offense to 1st-2nd easily… Give us an Average Defense along with that and we are Playoff bound and the better the Defense from there the further we will go… I am just so freakin excited to see what a brand new Staff with fresh eyes will do with this team… There are never any guarantees when it comes to the Bucs but this is the most positive I’ve felt about our chances at an above 500 season (this year or the next) since the Super Bowl…

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    Rating: +4. From 8 votes.
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  18. I blame the coaching staff for last year’s rushing troubles. Teams with less talented O-lines and average RB were rushing better than we did. People down on RoJo clearly did not pay attention to how poorly we run blocked. Yeah RoJo made a couple poor choices, but he also was being coached poorly and was getting clobbered behind the line so frequently that his confidence was probably shaken. The kid is clearly talented, look at the college tape and his athletic profile. I think this coaching staff will get a lot more out of him in year 2, and by year 3 he will be top dog over Barber. We do not need to waste resources on RB. Spend the money and picks on the trenches!

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  19. We need a back that can take it to the house and Rojo is that guy. With new coaching and an improved line if we don’t overpay D. Smith I expect to see a much improved Rojo. Some posters called Vea a bust last year before it took Licht to coach him up and nobody is making that mistake now. Go Rojo Now!!! Cannon Fire!

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  20. In my opinion, a few good runs to resurrect RoJo’s confidence will do wonders.

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  21. I must admit, Rojo was probably one of my least favorite RBs in the draft. And yes I wanted Guice once he had dropped. You cannot deny his long speed but some of his issues that were displayed in the article is what I felt I saw on film. In many of his games, USC was just lightyears better than their opponent and often created wide open running lanes and more often than not, he was the fastest player on the field. But I questioned his ability to make something of nothing, make a man miss etc and those were not his strong suit in my opinion. Our OL isn’t good, that’s a given, so wouldn’t it be smart to seek a RB with more than one dimension to his game, Rojo’s being pure speed and not much else.

    With that being said since we’ve drafted him, I’m rooting for him to find his way. I would like to not have to spend a pick on another RB. Sign a veteran (That will at least compete for starting snaps) and let’s get coached up. I have this sense of blind faith in BA to get some production out of Rojo, but I don’t expect him to “blow up”. Would really love to see that long speed put to use. It’s true we’ve not had a RB with that kind of ability.

    GO BUCS

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  22. Couldn’t agree more Trevor…a good running game is 80% OLine, 20% RB (unless you happen to have one of the few special ones like Barry Sanders used to be and maybe Sequan Barkley is). Remember Michael Pittman and our Lombardi…

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