Aug 16, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Mike James (25) is tackled by New England Patriots linebacker Mike Rivera (59) during the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium. The New England Patriots won 25-21. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Pewter Plank Mailbag: What Will The Running Back Depth Chart Look Like for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?


It’s time for another question from the Pewter Plank mailbag, and this time I took to Twitter to ask about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and got some great questions. This one comes from Robby:

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Another great question, and one that I believe has come into focus over the past two weeks.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Doug Martin will be the starting running back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Jul 25, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Brian Leonard (30) runs with the ball during training camp at One Buccaneer Place. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Moving on, I believe that by not playing against the Patriots, we learned that Brian Leonard is the Buccaneers primary backup for Doug Martin. Leonard was held out with what head coach Greg Schiano would later call “a strain or something.”

Yeah, right.

Leonard is a savvy veteran runner who doesn’t have a huge workload on his legs, but has the trust and respect of the Buccaneers’ coaches. He’s proven he can protect the passer and gain yards in short yards-to-go situations, two things LeGarrette Blount failed to do frequently. Leonard will be the second running back on the depth chart, and he will be the one to appear in place of Martin to make sure Doug isn’t overworked.

I believe that Mike James is next, because he offers most of the same things Doug Martin offers, just at a lower overall skill level. Greg Schiano has even compared James to Martin, saying that overall speed is the main factor keeping James from being “Muscle Hamster 2.0.”

If Doug Martin needs a full series off, the Buccaneers might turn to James instead of Leonard because he offers a bit more athletic upside, and seems to be able to run all the same plays Martin can. Leonard might come in more often for a play or two at a time, but James will likely see the field if Doug picks up a minor injury, or just needs a series-worth of a break.

Finally, I think Peyton Hillis will make the roster as the last running back on the depth chart, and he and James will battle it out in practice and limited reps to see who will be held off the 46-man active roster every week. Hillis’ unreliable ball control as a rusher is a big concern in an offense that held onto the football so well in 2012, so I doubt Hillis will be trusted with an serious amount of carries until it’s certain he’s not going to fumble as often as he has in the past.

That means that Michael Smith will not be making the roster, but the Buccaneers may be able to keep him on the practice squad, and he might find his way back if Hillis continues to fumble.

And at fullback, despite his camp injuries, I believe Erik Lorig will make the team as the one and only fullback, and obviously be the starter at the position. But if Lorig is let go during roster cut-downs, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Michael Smith stay in his place, with a combination of Leonard, James, and Tom Crabtree filling the role of lead blocker on two-back plays.

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