The injury bug has been feasting on Bucs players this season, but a little good news came out of One Buc Place on Monday.
According to head coach Dirk Koetter, running back Charles Sims is anticipated to make his return from eight weeks on the injured reserve list.
“Yeah, I would expect that,” Koetter said. “There are some things, some administrative things, that have to happen, but I would think that Charles has a good chance. He’s looked really good in practice.”
Tampa Bay lost Sims to a sprained knee ligament during the Bucs’ Week 4 home loss against the Denver Broncos, two games after watching starter Doug Martin go down and miss significant time.
Bucs RB Charles Sims – Photo by: Getty Images
Injuries have plagued Sims since he entered the league as a third-round draft pick in 2014 and this year’s setback came during a painful year for Bucs ball carriers. Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith – both signed after Week 1 – got bit by the bug after Martin and Sims. Rodgers missed four straight games before returning Sunday in San Diego and Smith was lost for the year Week 9 against Atlanta.
While the Bucs receiving corps is now feeling the pain after losing Cecil Shorts III and Adam Humphries early against the Chargers, their situation at running back is suddenly overcrowded with options. In addition to Martin, Sims and Rodgers, rookie Peyton Barber has done enough to impress the coaching staff despite being pressed into action earlier than expected.
While there are only so many snaps to go around during a game, having too many options is much better than the alternative, Koetter said.
“Well, you can only play one of them at a time and you can only give one of them the ball. That’s the negative. But we’ve come a long way in a few weeks from being razor thin to now having four guys in the backfield – potentially four guys if they’re all active – that we trust to give the football to in the running game. And then they all have their different strengths. All those guys can pass protect, Charles is the best receiver in the group, but none of them are bad. It just gives us more options.
“And then Peyton and Jacquizz have been playing key roles on specials teams, as well. That’s another place where Chuck can help out. Usually on game day, between wide receiver, tight end and running back, you’re going to have 12 guys active. We’ve been kind of going five, four and three – wideouts, tight ends and running backs. But based on injuries, that might get juggled around a little bit.”
Bucs RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Getty Images
Tampa Bay is in the middle of the NFL pack in terms of rushing success, averaging 104.9 yards per game. That ranks the Bucs 17th overall despite averaging only 3.6 yards per attempt, which is tied for the fourth worst mark in the league. So even though the Bucs aren’t ripping off a lot of big gains, they’re grinding out yards and sticking with the run. Tampa Bay’s 29.3 carries per game are fourth most in the league.
Neither Martin (17 carries for 45 yards, one touchdown) nor Rodgers (seven for 29) enjoyed a great day running the ball against the Chargers defense, but Tampa Bay still handed the ball off 26 times and got four more rushes from quarterback Jameis Winston.
“San Diego did some things movement-wise with their front,” Koetter said. “When we were in our three-wide personnel they loaded the box on us and we maybe got a little ahead of ourselves trying to keep some runs against some bad box counts when we maybe should have given Jameis the option to get into a pass play. That’s not Jameis’ fault, that’s my fault. I think you have to give San Diego a little credit, but I do think we can run the ball better and we’re going to need to run the ball better.”
Entering this week’s NFC South game against New Orleans, Rodgers remains the team’s leading rusher, picking up 422 yards and a touchdown on 95 carries (4.4-yard average). Martin is second with 313 yards and two scores on 105 carries (3.0-yard average). Barber has 204 yards and one touchdown on 50 carries (4.1-yard average) and Sims has 116 yards and a touchdown on 41 carries (2.8-yard average). The Bucs have rushed for six touchdowns and Winston (111 yards on 41 attempts) accounted for the other Week 4 against Denver.