Finding a bright spot in the 2013 4-12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers season isn’t easy. One unit that looks to be well set for the future is the offensive backfield. Albeit, it took unfortunate circumstances for the depth of the position to reveal itself.
A spectacular rookie campaign was followed by a less than stellar sophomore effort by Doug Martin. The running back made it to week 6 before he was lost to a torn labrum from a violent hit in Atlanta. Martin, while still young, is considered to be one of the more dangerous back in the NFL when healthy.
New offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford has made it clear he would like to use multiple backs in his system. If last season is any indication, the former Cal Bears head coach has options outside of Martin.
While Martin has proven to be a three-down back, a capable replacement has already been discovered in Mike James. While Martin was out with a shoulder injury, James raised eyebrows with a stellar performance at the Seattle Seahawks rushing for 158 yards on 28 carries.
Once again the injury bug bit the Bucs and James was carted off the field on Monday Night Football week 10 against the Miami Dolphins. Enter undrafted Bobby Rainey. Down to their third option, the Buccaneers finished 2013 using Rainey as their feature back. While Rainey had several games with little to show for, he had two weeks looking like anything but a third-teamer.
Week 11 against the Atlanta Falcons Rainey’s 30 carries resulted in 163 yards and two touchdowns. Just three weeks later against the Buffalo Bills, the Western Kentucky product rushed for 127 yards on 22 carries including a breakaway 80 dash into the end zone.
Rainey enters the 2014 offseason as an exclusive rights free agent. However, Martin is locked up through the next few seasons and James is under contract through 2016. Speedster Jeff Demps is coming back from injury as well and will be under contract for this season. Demps could serve as a dangerous weapon on special teams if he makes the roster.
Adding to the long list of banged up backs is Michael Smith out of Utah State. Smith might not survive 2014 training camp, but he does have significant upside and might be a pleasant surprise.
Assuming the Bucs can avoid a disastrous plague of injuries that they saw in 2013, there is much to be hopeful for this year. Whoever carries the rock for Tampa Bay in the near future, the ball should be in capable hands.