We all can agree that the Buccaneers have gone a long time without a real threat at the RB position. Cadillac Williams and Earnest Graham both had pretty good careers and each had one season where they really shined. Outside of that, the running game has been a disappointment. Not too long ago, however, there was a glimpse of promise from a young, undrafted rookie from Hofstra University. While attending the university, RB Kareem Huggins rushed for over 2,000 yards. Those are some really impressive numbers. Unfortunately for Huggins, he is considered to be undersized for pro level football. At 5’9 and 198 lbs., he was thought incapable of blocking during passing plays. He tried out for the Jets, but wasn’t offered a contract. That didn’t break the determination Huggins had to be a pro. He continued to workout and send game footage to NFL teams. Coach Raheem Morris had interest in the small running back and invited Huggins to try-outs to see what he could offer the Bucs. Ironically, both Morris and Huggins were born in Newark, N.J., grew up in Irvington, and attended Hofstra. His chances of playing for the NFL were halted when he hyperextended his knee after playing in two preseason games, forcing the coaching staff to review other options. Huggins did recover fairly quickly, and was able to participate in the final three games of the 09’season and contributed to the special teams unit, recording 1 tackle and 2 kick returns for 52 yards.
Huggins was very dedicated to bettering himself as a player, and his chances at becoming a starter for the Bucs. He was always at the Buccaneers training facility, One Buc Place, working on getting stronger and better. At one point, he was considered to be the strongest pound-for-pound player on the entire roster. Even more exciting, he was the fastest running back the Bucs have ever had, flashing through the 40-yard dash in 4.28 seconds. Have you ever heard of Titans RB Chris Johnson, one of the fastest running backs in the NFL? Huggins was just one stride behind him, which is really impressive.
Huggins returned healthy for the 2010 campaign, where he had the biggest opportunity of his career. Cadillac continued to be held back due to his knee injuries, and Graham was being considered to be a full time starter for fullback. Cadillac was still going to be the starter, but the team needed someone to share the snaps with Cadillac. That left Huggins to compete with Clifton Smith and notorious under performer, Derrick Ward. Smith was more of a lock for special teams at the time. So the competition between Ward and Huggins began. Ward was an amazing back for the Giants before becoming a Buccaneer, making him the favorite in this battle. Ward, however, had a very disappointing 09’ season with the Bucs, which caused many of the fans and coaching staff to start shifting their attention to Huggins. Ward struggled, even in the preseason. Huggins, on the other hand, didn’t just do well, he exploded. He wasn’t the best to be an ‘every down back’, but showed that he could rob the defense of huge yardage if they weren’t paying attention to the undersized running back. Ward didn’t have a chance and was soon let go.
After making the starting roster, Huggins was given limited carries, while Cadillac took on most of the work load. The coaching staff was bringing in Huggins slowly. After just a few touches, Huggins was tackled at knee level and suffered damage to multiple ligaments and a torn meniscus while playing against the Saints, ending his season. This was a devastating blow to the team and their hope of changing the reputation of their running game.
For the past several months, Huggins has faced a very challenging recovery. The lockout has restricted Huggins from being able to rehabilitate with team doctors and facilities. It is unlikely he will be fully recovered in time to play in the 2011 season, but may be on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. Then again, the Bucs may be moving in a different direction. The rise of star, LeGarrette Blount, and the drafting of Allen Bradford from USC in the 2010 draft, shows signs of preference to larger running backs. The Bucs would like to see that Huggins can perform again before being offered a contract.
I think that the Bucs should move on from Huggins. History in the NFL shows that after an injury like this, the chances of returning are almost nonexistent. Huggins is the type of running back that fully relies on quick jukes and explosive downfield sprinting. After a devastating injury like this, the odds of him being as fast or shifty are very slim. Athletes with this injury also tend to never trust their knees again. They lose faith in being able to sprint and juke without their knee giving out. A good example is Terrell Davis, of the Denver Broncos. Let’s continue to cross our fingers and stay optimistic. If he can return to full form, the Bucs will have one of the most dangerous RB tandems in the NFL with Huggins and Blount.
For more great information on Huggins injury, read this article by Mark McKenna MD. http://thepewterplank.com/2010/10/26/a-note-on-huggins-injury/