There has been plenty of positive buzz about Ronald Jones II, the team’s second-round pick from a year ago, who was hit with the “bust” label after an awful rookie season. It’s true that a bigger, better RoJo – he’s up to 221 pounds – is beginning to resemble the breakaway back that Bucs general manager Jason Licht thought he was getting from USC.
But there is another young running back in Tampa Bay’s stable that has been equally impressive in training camp. This guy didn’t come into the league with any hype or fanfare, but he’s had a similar transformation this offseason and looks like a real NFL running back.
If you don’t know about Ogunbowale (pronounced O-gun-bo-wall-aye) yet, you’ll know about him this preseason – starting in Pittsburgh.
Don’t be surprised if Ogunbowale leads the Bucs in preseason rushing yards and carries as Jones will get his looks for experience, development and confidence, but Bruce Arians will want to save him and Peyton Barber for the regular season.
Ogunbowale entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin in 2017, thanks to a slow 4.65 time in the 40-yard dash after rushing for 1,518 yards and 13 touchdowns while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. What had NFL scouts in Tampa Bay and elsewhere intrigued his ability to catch the ball, recording 60 receptions for 507 yards (8.5 avg.) and two touchdowns in two years for the Badgers.
Houston signed Ogunbowale as an undrafted free agent three years ago and had him on its practice squad until he was released on October 6, 2017. The Bucs signed him for a week in early December of 2017 before releasing him. After a short two-week stint in Washington at the end of the 2017 season, Ogunbowale was released on March 6, 2018.
The Bucs signed him again on August 2, 2018 and then put him on their practice squad before signing him to the active roster for a few weeks late in the year where he returned seven kickoffs, averaging 19.6 yards.
Bucs RB Dare Ogunbowale – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR
Now up to 220 pounds after playing close to 205 at Wisconsin, Ogunbowale has become a force to be reckoned with in training camp.
“I’m up to 220 and I’ve been gaining weight throughout my career,” Ogunbowale said. “I can move real well at a heavier weight and take some hits and still run my routes and catch the ball. The extra weight has been helping.
“It’s fun being heavier out in space going up against smaller cornerbacks. And I can still make guys miss. It’s good to know that when the hit comes this extra weight will allow me to pull out of some would-be tackles.”
Kevin Minter is one of the linebackers charged with the responsibility of covering Ogunbowale in practice.
“One guy that has impressed me is Dare Ogunbowale,” Minter said. “His routes are so good. When Dare is in the backfield you have to be on your toes, especially when he’s running his routes. The man has a mean stick. He’s been showing that since OTAs. You have to play with your technique and keep your feet up under you with Dare.”
With Barber slated to start for Bruce Arians and an improved Jones figuring as the No. 2 back in Tampa Bay, Ogunbowale is challenging veteran Andre Ellington for the role of the pass-catching nickel running back on third downs.
“I’ve always considered myself a great route-runner and a great pass catcher,” Ogunbowale said. “Coach Arians likes to throw the ball to the backs and give the backs looks, so it’s been good for me. I’ve been excited through OTAs and mini-camps, but now that we’re in pads in training camp I’ve really been able to show the coaches what I can do. I fit in real well.”
Bucs RB Dare Ogunbowale and ILB Kevin Minter – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR
So far, Arians likes what he sees.
“Every practice he’s been good,” Arians said. “He’s really, really impressing us. He’s pressing to be the nickel back and every-down back if he’s needed to be.”
While Ogunbowale and Ellington are battling for the same spot, the former Arizona Cardinals running back has been instrumental in helping him pick up Arians’ offense.
“Dre has been helpful to me,” Ogunbowale said. “He’s been in this league awhile and in this offense awhile. He’s able to give us some insights on what he sees and how to attack defenses. He’s been real helpful in my progression in this offense.”
Also aiding Ogunbowale’s development is new running backs coach Todd McNair, who had 254 career catches for 2,435 yards (9.6 avg.) and seven touchdowns in his eight-year NFL career – most of which was in Kansas City where he played for Arians.
“He’s a good guy and a great coach,” Ogunbowale said. “He had a long career in the NFL and was successful. He did a lot of catching the ball in his career, so he’s been giving us so many insights and so many tricks of the trade about route running and pass catching. We’re excited to learn from him.”
Despite some in the media – including yours truly and PewterReport.com – and some in the Bucs fan base fretting over what appeared to be a lackluster stable of running backs in Tampa Bay, what we have seen in training camp from the likes of Barber, Jones, Ogunbowale and Ellington has revealed that maybe Licht and Arians knew something we didn’t. All four of those backs seem to be perfect fits for Arians’ offense that new offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich will be operating this year.
While Ogunbowale is pressing for playing time on offense, he knows that he will make the Bucs’ 53-man roster due to his continued strong play on special teams.
“Special teams in general, being a walk-on in college, I had to play special teams in order to get on the field,” Ogunbowale said. “I’m excited to compete to be a leader on special teams. I want to be one of the leaders on special teams and one of the guys people turn to for leadership. Being able to return kicks and cover kicks is going to be big for me. I’m excited about the challenge. I did pretty well at it last year, and I want to build on that.”
Bucs RB Dare Ogunbowale – Photo by: Mary Holt/PewterReport.com
Ogunbowale, whose sister Arike is a rookie in the WNBA, was excited to hear that new special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong mentioned him as a kick return candidate shortly after being hired. While Bobo Wilson will likely get first crack at kick returns, Ogunbowale wants another chance to show he can be a factor in the return game.
“The biggest thing on kick returns is don’t waste time – get upfield,” Ogunbowale said. “I have the speed, but getting downhill fast and making sure I can make guys miss in close quarters is what is going to help me along with making sure I do what Coach Armstrong wants me to do.”
Even if he’s relegated to covering kicks, Ogunbowale is eager to show up on special teams.
“When I walked on at Wisconsin, I was a cornerback, so I was used to playing on that side of the ball and tackling,” Ogunbowale said. “Every time I get to cover a kick I get a little flashback to those days playing defense and I’m going to try to force some fumbles.”
While Ogunbowale wants to force some fumbles on special teams, he better not fumble the ball on offense. If he can maintain his grip on the pigskin and have a productive August, Ogunbowale just might edge out Ellington for the third-down back role in September – and won’t be considered a sleeper anymore.
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: email@example.com
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