With second-year quarterbackJameis Winston
continuing to develop, the Buccaneers will still have to rely heavily on their backfield in 2016. That’s not a bad thing at all.
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Following the 2015 season, the Buccaneers’ front office, particularly general manager Jason Licht, made it clear that re-signing running back Doug Martin would be one of the top priorities for the offseason. Licht crossed that off of his to-do list in March, inking the 27-year-old to a five-year deal. The signing was a big deal for Tampa Bay, as it’s clear that Martin will be a big part of the team’s plans for the future, and for good reason.
Martin struggled with injuries and production in 2013 and 2014 after a rookie campaign in 2012 that saw him rush for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns. He bounced back in a big way last year, carrying the ball 288 times for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns. Bringing him back will help the Tampa Bay offense in 2016 as it continues to transition under the leadership of second-year quarterback Jameis Winston. Martin’s return keeps the Bucs’ backfield strong as he will look to lead the group and follow up his 2015 season with another productive year.
If there was ever any doubt as to whether or not Tampa Bay would bring Martin back, it was because of Charles Sims. When the Bucs drafted Sims in 2014, it seemed unnecessary. They already had Martin, Bobby Rainey and Mike James on the roster and the team appeared to have bigger holes at other positions. Add to that an unlucky rookie year in which Sims missed eight games and things were looking down for the third-round pick. Then, 2015 happened.
In his second year, Sims proved why the Bucs were justified in taking him rather than filling needs at other positions. He rushed for 529 yards on 107 carries, which was good for 4.9 yards per carry, the same mark that Martin posted. He was particularly impressive when coming out of the backfield as a receiver, catching 51 passes for 561 yards and four touchdowns. Sims is a good running back, but his pass-catching abilities add an entirely different dimension to Tampa Bay’s backfield.
Martin and Sims will undoubtedly lead the way for the Bucs’ rushing attack this fall, but there are options behind them that make for solid depth. The team will presumably carry three running backs, which means there will be a competition between the remaining options. Mike James, who got playing time with Tampa Bay in 2013 before being limited to 19 carries in 2014 and the practice squad in 2015, is still on the roster. He will compete with the newly acquired Storm Johnson, who didn’t play in 2015 after seeing limited action with Jacksonville the year before. And, of course, there’s always a chance that someone outshines both of them in training camp to take a spot on the roster.
Another player who could make an impact out of the backfield is rookie Danny Vitale from Northwestern. Although he is listed as a tight end, he has versatility that makes him useful out of the backfield. His role as an H-back is similar to that of a fullback, as he will be employed in blocking situations but also as a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield.
With the group that Tampa Bay has in the backfield going into this season, the team should again have a good balance between the passing attack and run game. The Bucs would be wise to put a big emphasis on the rushing attack itself, as they ran the ball the most last year in close games. In eight games decided by seven points or less, five of which were wins, Tampa Bay ran the ball 244 times for 1,098 yards and nine touchdowns.
This Buccaneers team finds itself in a good position to duplicate that success on a larger scale with Martin, Sims and co. manning the backfield in 2016.