With the NFL draft just two months away and the combine in the rear-view mirror, the majority of NFL fans are focused on who their team will bring in to be the difference maker(s) in 2014. However as fun as it may be to speculate about the next great star coming to Raymond James Stadium, the Tampa Buccaneers and their fans should be more excited about the players returning for the 2014 season, especially at the running back position.
In the years since the advent of the new pass-focused NFL, the traditional “Feature Back,” has become somewhat of an anomaly. Unless your team’s backfield includes Adrian Peterson or Marshawn Lynch, fans can expect to rely on two or even three RB’s to add extra wrinkles to your offenses scheme. For NFL purists, this notion is disconcerting because they are used to the LaDainian Tomlinson style “Bell-Cow Backs” of yesterday’s game; the Back that was the face of a franchise for a decade or more.
However the advanced analytics of today’s NFL reveal that a back who eclipses the 300 carry mark in a given year is, more times than not, significantly less effective the following season. For Tampa Bay, this was evident in 2013 when Doug Martin went down with a torn labrum in his shoulder and missed the majority of year. It is also interesting to note that after Martin’s 319 carries in 2012, he wasn’t even close to producing at the same level prior to his injury last season. So what does this mean for 2014?
2014 will see a resurgent Doug Martin. Fresh legs and a lighter work load for the third year Boise State product should translate in to solid production, hopefully akin to his 2012 numbers. Martin however, will not be a 300 carry back that is for sure. That lighter load in 2014 will be thanks to the two backs who replaced No. 22 in 2013. Last season in Martin’s stead, the Bucs turned to 6th round draft pick Mike James out of the University of Miami and free agent acquisition Bobby Rainey. James performed well in limited action, sporting a 4.6 yards per carry clip in his eight games. Rainey on the other hand, carried the load for the Bucs down the stretch and was one of the loan bright spots for a NFL’s worst offense.
Possibly the biggest question in the Bucs 2014 backfield remains: How will new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford utilize the talent behind QB Mike Glennon? Tedford, known for his complex quarterback focused offense, is no stranger to having a plethora of options at the running back position. With names like Marshawn Lynch, Shane Vereen, and Jahvid Best having flanked Cal signal callers during Tedford’s tenure as head coach, the 2014 Buccaneers will rely heavily on their trio of RB’s to shoulder the offensive load while their quarterbacks attempt to digest Tedford’s multifaceted passing game.
It is the sheer depth of the Buccaneers backfield that will allow Tampa Bay’s offense to be successful this season. Each back brings a unique skill set to the table. Martin is a complete Matt Forte type of back who is equally dangerous between the tackles and in space. James is good for the tough yards and exciting in the open field, while Rainey has been described as the poor man’s Darren Sproles. Any combination of these three weapons will incite some sleepless nights for NFC defensive coordinators.
Make no mistake Buccaneers fans, there will be an adjustment period offensively. Tedford’s system is anything but simplistic. While Mike Glennon, or whoever winds up taking the snaps in 2014 will undoubtedly be the focal point, it will be the unique depth of the Bucs running backs that will make this season worth watching.