The Runner Sports

Training Camp Battles: Buccaneers’ Running Backs

Look around, and all you will see is Instagram posts about vacations on the beach. Virtually nothing is happening in the NFL as teams squeeze in those last-minute trips and take advantage of the waning free time. As such, these are the times that are mostly used for predicting roster spots and examining camp battles. All 32 teams have quite a bit of intrigue heading into Training Camp, especially as veterans try to hold off the high-profile rookies.

Heading into a much-anticipated appearance on “Hard Knocks,” the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a fairly settled depth chart on both sides of the ball. The only true battles involve kickers and running backs. Given that NFL Media’s Dan Hanzus is locked in on Nick Folk v. Roberto Aguayo, it’s only fitting that the focus should now switch to the backfield. Tampa Bay has three returning contenders in Doug Martin, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Charles Sims, but none are locked in for the starting job. This could open the door for a new face.

Doug Martin

Originally rumored to be an offseason casualty, running back Doug Martin will actually rejoin his teammates after finishing treatment at an unnamed facility for PED abuse. Only one year removed from finishing second in rushing yards, Martin appears to be locked in as the number one back. However, his claim to the starting job will be put on hold as Martin deals with a three-game suspension to start the season. This will open up opportunities for Rodgers, Sims, and rookie Jeremy McNichols.

Granted, Martin will most likely take back over the starting job after his suspension, but which version will show up? During his five-year career, the former Boise State running back has only played in all 16 games twice. Both seasons ended with him topping 1,400 rushing yards. The other three seasons, however, Martin failed to top 500 yards while dealing with injuries, poor play, and suspension. Martin has shown flashes but has ultimately been inconsistent.

Charles Sims

Ah, the curious case of Charles Sims. Drafted out of West Virginia back in 2014, Sims has primarily been used as Martin’s backup and a pass-catching option on third down. If you examine the numbers released by Pro Football Focus, it becomes apparent that Sims is well suited to this role considering that he was second best in the NFL back in 2015 with 2.25 yards-per-route run. As a runner, on the other hand, Sims has struggled between the tackles, averaging 2.9 yards-per-carry during an injury-plagued 2016 campaign and about 3.5 yards-per-carry over his first three seasons.

With both durability concerns and average rushing skill, Sims will be best served as the third-down option in Tampa Bay, even when Martin is suspended. He is so much more athletic as a pass catcher that it seems a waste to force him into a traditional role.

Jacquizz Rodgers

A journeyman runner, Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers spent the first four years of his career backing up Michael Turner in Atlanta before heading to Chicago for a season. Last year, Quizz was actually unemployed until both Martin and Sims went down. Given the history in Atlanta and a familiarity with Quizz’s running style, Dirk Koetter brought in the former Falcons backup to lead the charge during a critical stretch. And despite his history as more of a rotational player, Quizz actually responded to the newfound starting role and helped lead Tampa Bay to victories against Carolina and San Francisco.

With Martin gone for three games, it seems that Quizz will ultimately lead the rushing attack on the early downs while Sims catches passes on third down. He can hide behind big offensive linemen and sneak through the lanes. Plus, he is also one of Tampa Bay’s better blocking backs. Upon Martin’s return, however, Quizz will most likely return to a backup role and alternate snaps with Sims. Unless he runs with a purpose and makes the idea of inserting another back into the lineup laughable.

Jeremy McNichols

Once a collegiate backup to Jay Ajayi, Jeremy McNichols was very productive during his final two seasons at Boise State as both a runner and receiver. Interestingly, NFL Draft Analyst Lance Zierlein listed McNichols’ lack of broken tackles as a weakness but still noted that he could challenge for starting reps after working in a committee. The comments may seem contradictory at first glance, but they are quite true. Last season, the Boise State Broncos played the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis, Oregon. During this away game, McNichols was leveled a few times by Treston Decoud and the other defenders, but the Broncos ultimately won behind McNichols’ big plays. The dynamic runner totaled 208 yards and four crucial touchdowns during the victory and always kept Boise State just out of reach, even during OSU’s comeback attempt.

Obviously, McNichols has more than enough talent to be an NFL starter, but he will need some coaching to fix both fumbling and pass protection issues. He should see some snaps during Martin’s suspension but will need to turn these opportunities into big plays to keep earning time as the season progresses.

Verdict

Upon cursory examination, this battle seems to be cut-and-dry. Martin is the starter despite facing a suspension and should remain so with a return to the field in week four. In the meantime, Quizz Rodgers will taking starting snaps while alternating with Charles Sims. Of course, the entire battle could be flipped upside down if Quizz is more productive than expected, or if McNichols shows some serious juice during training camp and preseason. Hopefully, “Hard Knocks” will provide some needed insight into Tampa Bay’s backfield competition.

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John Newby

A Minnesota Vikings fan from Oregon who writes about the Houston Texans and discusses nerdy topics.
Quite fond of my wife, video games, and Blue Heelers.
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