When Brian Leonard was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he wasn’t touted by fans as an answer to the running back depth problem the Bucs were facing. That’s partly because Buccaneers’ fans didn’t care about the running back depth problem, as shoring up the defensive backfield was the top priority, and little else was on the minds of Buccaneer nation (myself included, to be honest).
But the former Rutgers running back was brought in to offer a reliable backup for Doug Martin, and to replace the one-dimensional LeGarrette Blount. Leonard is never going to be 1000 yard back Blount once was, but he provides a wealth of abilities beyond the hard-hitting running the Bucs got from the former Oregon Duck who is now in New England. This offseason has proven that Leonard’s addition should have been viewed with a bit more legitimacy.
He has been impressive in practices when given a chance, including a long touchdown run in a scrimmage under the lights at Raymond James Stadium. During Thursday’s training camp session, Leonard was the “third down” back for the first team two minute drill team, running sidecar with Josh Freeman as the team marched down the field. Peyton Hillis, however, fumbled the ball twice, and didn’t get many chances to impress on Thursday. Expectations were somewhat high when Hillis was signed, but he’s failed to stand out up to this point.
Brian Leonard has never carried the ball 100 times in a season, and he’s never had more than 500 total yards in a season. Unlike a player who has fallen from grace like Hillis, Leonard is still looking to prove himself in the NFL. And while he’s not going to emerge as a breakout superstar for the Buccaneers, he could serve a very important role by keeping Doug Martin from being overworked, especially in third down pass protection situations. He’s clearly working hard to do so this offseason, and he has the continued trust of his college head coach to keep him going.
And with Mike James, Erik Lorig, and Michael Smith all in the fold, Leonard got affirmation today that he has an advantage in the race for a roster spot as a third down back and a backup to Doug Martin. Will he be able to take hold of the job, and give the Bucs the depth they need?