The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will spend this offseason trying to upgrade its 29th-ranked running attack. While there is strong speculation that the team will spend a draft pick, perhaps the fifth overall selection, on a running back in April, expect Tampa Bay to also dabble in free agency to add some punch to its ground game.
The Buccaneers are expected to be in contact with free agent all-purpose back Derrick Blaylock, who has spent the past four seasons in Kansas City in Priest Holmes’ shadow.
“We’re interested in them,” Blaylock’s agent, Michael Huyghue, told PewterReport.com. “As soon as the clock strikes midnight (to kickoff free agency in 2005), we expect to hear from them. We’ll see how it goes. Derrick’s skills would be a good fit for what they do.”
Blaylock has the slashing running style and receiving skills in the passing game that the Bucs’ version of the West Coast offense demands from its halfbacks. He hasn’t had much of an opportunity to showcase that ability behind Holmes, a Pro Bowler, and Larry Johnson, a former first-round pick, but has carried the ball 156 times for 723 yards (4.6 avg.) and 10 touchdowns throughout his career. Blaylock has also caught 45 career passes for 474 yards (10.5 avg.) and two touchdowns. Despite handling the ball 201 times on offense, Blaylock has just one fumble.
He received the most playing time in his NFL career last year when Holmes missed the second half of the season due to a knee injury he suffered at Tampa Bay. In 2004, the 5-foot-9, 210-pound Blaylock rushed for 539 yards on 118 carries (4.6 avg.) and scored eight rushing touchdowns, while catching 25 passes for 246 yards (9.8 avg.), including one touchdown.
Blaylock scored a career-high four touchdowns while rushing for 90 yards on 19 carries (4.7 avg.) against Atlanta. He also caught three passes for 46 yards versus the Falcons. In a start against New Orleans, Blaylock logged 33 carries for 186 yards (5.6 avg.) and one touchdown to go with three catches for 38 yards (12.7 avg.). And against San Diego, he rushed for 57 yards on eight carries (7.1 avg.) and two touchdowns and had three catches for 21 yards before missing the last three games due to a knee sprain.
The Bucs are also expected to be interested in pursuing former New York Jets running back LaMont Jordan in free agency, but Oakland is believed to make the strongest run at Curtis Martin’s backup, who averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2004.
Tampa Bay will likely enter the bidding and use the lure of playing for Jon Gruden and quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett, who will be leaned upon to help out in the game-planning as well, to try to convince Jordan to become a Buccaneer. Hackett was essentially forced out as New York’s offensive coordinator at the end of the 2004 season, but the Jets had one of the league’s strongest running games.
Michael Pittman rushed for a career-high 926 yards and scored seven rushing touchdowns for Tampa Bay in 2004 despite missing the first three games due to an NFL suspension, but his six lost fumbles directly contributed to several losses and have the team concerned about his ball security heading in 2005. Pittman recently restructured his salary and his future in Tampa Bay past 2005 is in doubt.
The same could be said about 2004 free agent addition Charlie Garner, who rushed for 111 yards on 30 carries and missed the final 13 games of the season after tearing his patella tendon against Oakland in Week 3. Garner also took a pay cut over the weekend to help the Bucs get under the 2005 NFL salary cap figure of $85.5 million and is currently rehabbing his knee. His level of contribution for the 2005 season and beyond is also in question and he may be released after June 1 if he cannot make a complete recovery.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org