The Bucs will likely be without Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin (hamstring) for at least the next three weeks, leaving Charles Sims and recently signed Jacquizz Rodgers to handle the load, starting this Sunday against the Rams.
The duo’s first test won’t be easy.
Los Angeles possesses one of the most dominant front sevens in the league. The unit, which held Seattle’s backfield to 53 yards on 17 carries last Sunday, is led by defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who coach Dirk Koetter said is right up there with Gerald McCoy as one of the top two three-techniques in the NFL.
“A little bit different in size, but in production: Wow,” Koetter said of McCoy and Donald. “When I was in Atlanta and we played Gerald, we doubled him every play. You try to do the same thing with Donald, but sometimes the Rams (defense) makes it difficult. They play some fronts where they cover all three of your inside guys.”
The scheme affects the entire offensive strategy, but the Bucs running game will be under a closer microscope given the new dynamic.
Coaches have acknowledged the significance of the loss of Martin – Koetter called the fifth-year pro “one of the top running backs in the league” – but expressed confidence in Sims’ readiness to start and Rodgers’ experience in the system.
“Chuck’s been here long enough and has earned the opportunity to be the lead back,” offensive coordinator Todd Monken said Wednesday. “We expect him to play well, as we do Rodgers. Jacquizz has a background with Dirk, so with him having to play it’s not that big of a deal in terms of understanding the offense.”
While Sims has been an asset as a pass-catcher out of the backfield – fourth most receiving yards (561) for a running back in 2015 – this will be his first opportunity as the lead back since being drafted in the third round in 2014. Though Sims has averaged about seven carries a game throughout his career, there’s reason to believe he’s capable of shouldering the responsibility.
The West Virginia product, spending most of his rookie season injured before becoming a reliable change-of-pace back and playmaker in the screen game, rushed well in limited attempts (107) last season. Averaging 6.7 yards per carry, Sims totaled 539 yards on the ground with four carries of over 40 yards. In two games this season he’s rushed for 33 yards on 13 attempts.
As for Rodgers, who Tampa Bay signed last Tuesday, the former Bear and Falcon figures to see a decent amount of time in the coming weeks, as well. As Monken noted, the 5-foot-6 running back had his best three seasons, 2012-14, under the guidance of then-offensive coordinator Koetter in Atlanta. He eclipsed 330 yards rushing in 2012 and 2013, adding another 743 receiving yards in that span.
Speaking at his locker Wednesday, Rodgers said he’s familiar with the offense and is ready to be called upon.
“That’s what the NFL is, man. Next man up,” Rodgers said, expecting his role Sunday to be spelling a tired Sims. “You always got to stay ready because you never know coming in, anything can happen. You always have to practice as if you’re going to be the starter so that when your number is called there’s no drop off.”
While he didn’t have the same production in Chicago last year, Koetter noted that Rodgers has been a No. 2 running back before and gives the Bucs another viable option to help fill the void.
Koetter also said Rodgers more closely resembles Martin, in terms of running style and being an every down back, while praising his “zone running” and pass protection. Monken agreed.
“Really (Martin and Rodgers are) similar in a number of ways,” Monken said. “They’re both good in pass [protection], good catching the ball out of the backfield and can run with power when needed.”
Both coaches admitted that slight adjustments would have to be made to fit their temporary situation in the backfield, but, as Koetter pointed out, there’s a reason why every player is on the active roster. These are the guys the Bucs have to suit up – which means they’re expected to rise to the occasion Sunday.
“When you have an injury, whether it’s Doug Martin or (player) XYZ, guys are stacked on a depth chart for a reason,” Koetter said. “Doug Martin is an elite player in this league. The next guys’ up are not Doug Martin or they would be paid like Doug Martin. But those are the guys that we have and they’re going to go in there and do a great job.”
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
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