Mid-Season Report: Running Backs

The Bucs run game is on the rise.
The Bucs run game is on the rise. /
The Bucs run game is on the rise.
The Bucs run game is on the rise. /

We continue our level-by-level breakdown of the Bucs by looking at the running backs.

So far on the season the Buccaneers run game has been far from the solid offensive component that the Buccaneers hoped it would be. Coming into the year Bucs fans were lead to believe that between a solid offensive line and a healthy Cadillac Williams the Bucs would be able to rely heavily on the rushing attack.

That was far from the case. The line has battled inconsistency and injuries all season and Cadillac Williams is far from the elusive runner he once was. Promising young tailback Kareem Huggins was lost for the season early on. Earnest Graham has battled injuries all year. Still, going into the second half of the season the Buccaneers have plenty of reason for optimism thanks to the potential of LeGarrette Blount. Let’s take a look at the tailbacks.

Cadillac Williams

Cadillac is still a fan favorite, but at this stage of his career having suffered the kinds of injuries he’s endured, Williams is on his last legs. Where there was once an explosive, dynamic tailback there is now a far less elusive runner. It’s probably not fair to say that Cadillac is a shell of the player he once was, but it’s true. The endearing part about Williams is that he still puts in the work, he’s fundamentally sound, he performs admirably in the passing game and picking up blitzes. But as I’ve mentioned before, at this point in his career he’s better suited to play that utility-RB sort of position that Kevin Faulk has been in for almost his entire career. It’s not effective to ask Cadillac to take more than a few carries (he’s averaging 2.4 per carry), but he can still be exceptionally useful in obvious passing situations where he’s still a solid receiver out of the backfield and he is more than capable of chipping in to help pick up a blitz.

LeGarrette Blount is a unique talent.
LeGarrette Blount is a unique talent. /

LeGarrette Blount

Blount has been one of the biggest surprises for the Buccaneers this season. After picking him off the Titans’ scrap heap, Blount was brought along slowly. He didn’t really see any carries until the Pittsburgh game and he didn’t see any real time as the tailback until the St. Louis game. He still isn’t ready to assume full responsibilities as the feature back. His knowledge of protections and the smaller nuances of the offense still isn’t there and may not come until the end of the season, possibly even the next. But one thing is for sure, Blount needs to get the carries from here on out, even if that means the Bucs are telegraphing the run. Blount has 40 yards more than Cadillac on the season on 36 fewer carries. His average is a full two yards better than Williams’ and he employs a running style that wears a defense down. Most notable is the fact that Blount has done this behind a patch-work offensive line due to injuries and he’s still been noticeably more effective than Cadillac.

Earnest Graham

Graham is another fan favorite, arguably one of the hardest working Buccaneers, there’s no ego when it comes to Graham’s contribution to the offense. He’s better suited to be a tailback, he has the best rushing average on the team at 6.1 yards per carry but he’s been utilized more as the fullback. With the emergence of Erik Lorig though, Graham could be looking at more carries or at least more time at running back. Graham is the type of selfless player that will do a job well no matter what you ask and whether or not it’s suited to his strengths. Fullback isn’t a position that suits him, which is why Lorig’s emergence will prove beneficial. Still I don’t see Graham getting a large role in the offense in the second half unless it’s at fullback. He has always been and continues to be the proverbial forgotten man. I don’t see him taking carries from LeGarrette and Cadillac.

Erik Lorig

Lorig was drafted as a defensive end from Stanford and worked at that position until mid-way through the season when the Buccaneers inexplicably chose to change him to Fullback/Tight End. The move wasn’t what raised my eyebrow, it was the timing. He missed having the benefit of a full training camp and OTA’s to work on new techniques, instead he’s learned on the fly. Still, Lorig represents an intriguing option both now and down the road at fullback. He’s a large, athletic blocker who can really do some damage when he gets a hat on linebackers and safeties, and holds his own against linemen.

Final Thoughts

The Buccaneers running game needs to be looked at through two lenses. It failed in the first half of the season, ranking only 19th in the NFL, producing 103 yards per game. That comes with a few big performances at the end of the first half to inflate that statistic. Truth be told, in the first half the Bucs couldn’t rush the ball effectively. It was a mix of injuries, play-calling and poor personnel groupings, but this Bucs team really struggled until it plugged in LeGarrette Blount.

In the second half though this rushing attack looks like one that is set to break out. With Jeremy Trueblood set to return against the Panthers and Jeff Faine inching closer to a return to health, the Bucs will get back their offensive line and have a promising young duo in Lorig and Blount to develop at both positions in the backfield. The Bucs run game is poised to have a good second half.

Grade: C-

The first half of the season was not good in terms of running the football. But the Bucs have plenty of opportunity to improve that grade over the second half.