Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Crowded Backfield


The one are of this team with suitable depth is the RB position. Earnest Graham is still slotted as the starter, but I believe Derrick Ward will finish the season with more touches. Not a bad 1-2 combo. Graham is the fan favorite vet, the late bloomer who came on strong in ’07 but had ’08 cut short due to injury. He’s a guy who’s shown the ability to take the ball into the teeth of the defense and gain positive yardage, and I’ve admired the way he seems to always fall forward, getting the most out of his runs. He also adds a reliable weapon to the passing game, totaling 72 receptions over 25 games the last two years. In addition, Graham has also shown the ability to fill in as a lead blocker if/when needed.

Ward comes to the Bucs after playing the dash to Brandon Jacobs’ smash for the Giants. He has slightly less career carries than Graham, but his YPC is a full yard better (5.1ypc vs. 4.1ypc). New York’s line has quite a bit to do with that, but Ward is a talented runner in his own right. Like Graham, Ward is no stranger to catching passes out of the backfield. With receiving numbers similar to Graham, Ward caught 68 passes over 24 games the last two years, averaging an impressive 9.4 yards per reception in ’08. Like Graham, Ward is a hard runner who always seems to get the most out of his totes.

Like I said, I still think Ward will finish with more touches, but I do believe that this carries-sharing scenario is better for both runners. Add to that the Bucs’ passing game weaknesses, and having two lead backs is a necessity, not a desire. Those two backs should account for the majority of the carries, but the Bucs have 3 other backs on their roster who could make some noise of their own in ’09.

Clifton Smith – The Pro Bowl return man brings another dimension to the offense. He’s a home run threat every time he touches the ball, but due to his tremendous contribution to special teams, I’ve been hesitant to want him included as a regular part of the backfield. I’d hate to see our dynamite return man get hurt in a “secondary role”. Well, I just may have to suck it up. The guy simply makes plays, and the Bucs are going to need all of them they can get this year. He’s a runner who can turn a 2 yard gain into a 20 yard scamper.

Carnell Williams – Coming off his second patellar tendon tear in two years, Williams is no longer being counted on as a major offensive contributor. I salute the man for the physical and mental strength to rehab and recover from not 1 but 2 major knee injuries, but how much more can he take? I’d like for him to prove me wrong, but I don’t see him contributing more than Clifton Smith in ’09. Is Williams going to be explosive? Can he take the pounding and physical stress on a weekly basis? Does a 27 year old back coming off 2 major knee injuries have any trade value? Is he worth keeping on the roster at the expense of a guy like…

Kareem Huggins – A.K.A. Mr. August 2009. The free agent product from Hofstra had quite an impressive debut for the Bucs, making quite a bit out of his 12 touches against the Titans. After dropping a catchable pass by Byron Leftwich, Huggins proceeded to turn in positive play after positive play. He’ll have to work a little harder on ball security, evidenced by his 4th quarter fumble, but all in all, there was a lot to like. Huggins (5-9, 198) runs harder than his size and showed the determination you want to see from a guy fighting for a roster spot. I look forward to seeing more of the same against the Jags this week.

So that leads me to my question. With Graham, Ward, and Smith likely to account for nearly all of the backfield carries, is there room or a dire need for Carnell Williams? Huggins can contribute on special teams; something you won’t see from Carnell. Huggins is also 4 years younger and isn’t coming off two major knee injuries. If the rookie continues to show promise out of the backfield, do the Bucs keep Carnell and chance getting Huggins on the practice squad, or will the youngster earn a spot on the final 53 and bring the Cadillac era in Tampa to an end?

There are a lot of questions surrounding the ’09 Buccaneers, but this is one I like.


  1. I doubt they would hold Carnell out of the first two preseason games if they didn't already have plans to keep him. He has been doing some special teams practice during camp.

  2. You might be right. I just felt like throwing this out there. It's the one position where I'm pleased with the depth, and if the youngster keeps shining these next couple of games, he might make things interesting.

    What do they have Carnell doing on special teams? I'd be really hesitant to throw him out there. Special teams are an animal all their own with guys throwing themselves all over the field from all angles. Not a good scenario for a guy with shaky knees.

  3. I don't know about Smith. I wouldn't be averse to getting him a few touches in space if that's what you had in mind, but having him carry the ball between tackles...not so sure. He's maybe the first true game-changing caliber return man in Buc history and I would hate to diminish his effectiveness in that role.

    We might be seeing a first in NFL history this year with the Bucs: A decrease in run-game effectiveness in two-TE formations. I have no faith that either Stevens or Winslow can put a hat on anyone.


  4. TPE,

    That’s been my stance on Smith too, but I’m kind of torn. On one hand the Bucs are lacking game-changing talent, and he’s pretty dangerous with the ball in his hands. On the other hand, he’s a Pro Bowl return man, and even with him in the backfield, the Bucs probably aren’t contending for anything but a high draft pick. I don’t want him to get hurt playing his secondary role, but man he’s fun to watch.

    IMO, more than everyone learning a new scheme, what you need to worry about is the lack of depth up front. I like our starters (still wish Sears was ok), but check out some of these possible backups – Marc Dile, Rob Bruggeman, Julius Wilson, Demar Dotson, and Anthony Alabi. We can’t afford any injuries to our starters. Stevens and Winslow have a better shot of blocking effectively in this scheme, but Gilmore is still the only one of them I’m confident in.

  5. "I like our starters (still wish Sears was ok)"

    In principle I like them too. In practice, I was very concerned after the first series of downs against a Haynesworth-less Titans front four. For now I will put it off to Fain and Sears being absent, and the first time having to execute a new scheme against live competition.

    I am sure Mangurian has that list of backups in one window on his laptop and the NFL cut list website open in another. There HAVE to be players that don't make the 53 man rosters of some teams better than Rob Bruggerman..don't there? PLEASE LET IT BE SO.

    Thanks for the wildcat-Johnson link. Perhaps if Coach Morris were to phrase it as thus: 'Well Josh, we'd like to keep you on the roster, but your reluctance to help us with the wildcat limits what we can do with you, making our decision to release you a difficult but necessary one.' Just sayin'.


  6. Says me:

    "...and the first time having to execute a new scheme against live competition."...

    and a day later in the Trib:

    "These guys are learning an entirely new scheme and game day is the only chance they get to work in a truly live setting."

    Talbuc they are raiding your blog for content!!
    O.K., I don't really believe that, but it would be pretty flattering if they did.

    There really is only one thing I will be looking for tonight: a first quarter yards per carry number of at least 3.5.


  7. That's pretty funny. Depending on who wrote it, I might be in decent company.

    Tonight, I'm looking for Leftwich to lead a couple of scoring drives and consistently move the ball down the field. Even with our lack of weapons, the Bucs should have some success against a down Jacksonville team. Unfortunately, Jeff Faine is still out, and their best blocking TE, John Gilmore, didn’t make the trip north.

    I want to see if Maurice Stovall can resemble an NFL receiver and if Brian Clark can have another steady performance. I’d like to see them show a variety of routes with Sammie Stroughter, even if that means Cortez Hankton doesn’t see the field all night. We’ve seen what we need to from him. Dexter Jackson is missing the game, and I think he’s a huge longshot at this point to make the roster. Kareem Huggins should get the ball a lot in the second half with a chance to build upon a solid outing last week.

    I want to see another strong performance from the defensive tackles up front, specifically Roy Miller and Dre Moore. Gaines Adams may not start, but if he does, I’d like to see him get in the same zip code as David Garrard at least once. The rest of the ends aside from Stylez G. White need to make some plays.

    I want to see Jermaine Phillips improve upon last week’s start. He wasn’t bad, but he’s got to develop consistency on his attack/approach if he’s going to start at linebacker. Given Tanard Jackson’s suspension and Will Allen’s injury, Jermaine may be starting in the secondary instead. That being the case, I want to see Geno Hayes show his sideline to sideline abilities and wrap up at the point of contact. I don’t know if Angelo Crowell is playing or not, but it would be nice to see him in action.

    Oh, and gimme some more Clifton Smith at RB. He’s going to bust one sooner or later.