The Buccaneers’ Backup Running Back Battle Proves Why It Is Impossible To Predict Player Roles In June


Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It is that time of year again. The time where every true NFL fan starts to look for things to hold them over before training camps open up. Some will look to football simulators such as Madden, while others will scan desperately for any sliver of news broken over ESPN or NFL Network.   But there will be a few who begin to use the dreaded P word, predict!

They will begin by predicting simple things like which established superstar players will have excellent years or which teams will make the playoffs. But a select few will begin doing the impossible, trying to predict the winners of not only training camp battles, but also which players will win the few undecided roster spots. This task is folly, as it is almost impossible given the limited information at our disposal.

Take Tampa Bay and their back-up running back situation.

In April, Tampa Bay used a 6th round pick to select Mike James, a running back out of the University of Miami. Both Mark Dominick and Greg Schiano praised James for his abilities, and he seemed to be on the fast track to becoming the back-up running back to 2012 rookie sensation Doug Martin. Fast forward a few months and you come to the end of Tampa’s Organized Team Activities, where every given indication seems to point at Michael Smith, a 2012 7th round selection by the Buccaneers, as the leading candidate for the number two slot  on the depth chart. So what are we to make of this? Well, not a lot actually.

The problem here is the lack of contact in practice. Until training camp truly begins, it is hard to judge any player’s performance. After all, any one of us can go out and run with a football tucked under our arms. What makes or breaks a football player is how he performs with 11 other players coming after him every play.

Given these fairly obvious facts, it is difficult to truly predict who has the inside track to the back-up job. Sure, Smith is getting more reps there at the moment, but remember that James is a rookie learning a new offense. This means he will have an adjustment period like all rookies coming into the NFL. The speed of the game is different, the hits are harder, and the playbooks are more confusing and larger than those of most NCAA schools.

So how do you make an accurate estimation in regards the not only the back-up running back, but also the depth chart in general? Truth is, you don’t. Until the team hits the turf in full gear with full contact, the best we can do is hope and guess. Until then, we hold on to what little sanity we have left and wait for brighter, more football-filled days, when we can truly learn how the Bucs’ roster will turn out.