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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Free agency, draft could add more intrigue to crowded Bucs backfield



This probably will be construed as looking too far down the road, but it’s our blog so we get to make the rules.

In today’s newspaper, you might have read about the free-agent landscape at running back. Whether the Bucs will make a move is hard to say, but that’s beside the point.

Looking at the current running-back lineup got me thinking about what might lie ahead: A pretty interesting position battle in training camp.

Right now, the Bucs have Doug Martin, LeGarrette Blount, D.J. Ware and Michael Smith on the roster (Blount is a restricted free agent and is waiting for the team to tender a qualifying offer that will likely allow it to retain him). And given the number of running backs available in the draft and as undrafted free agents, the odds are very much in favor of at least one more joining that number, too.

So, fast forward to training camp and you have a really riveting situation.

Martin is untouchable, so forget about him. But no one else in the group has a firm grasp on any sort of role. Blount, if and when he is tendered, won’t have a guaranteed contract and will have to make the team (rumors of a first-round tender for him are not really valid).

Ware is under contract for another year, but the Bucs don’t have anything invested and could easily cut him. But he was their third-down back last season and will always have some credibility with offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan; the two worked together with the Giants.

Smith didn’t play last season, a frustrating experience for the 2012 seventh-round draft choice, but don’t make assumptions about him based on that. I always got the sense the Bucs never intended to play Smith last season. Public and private statements from Greg Schiano and Mark Dominik suggest he very much is a part of the Bucs’ future plans.

Throw in a draft pick or free-agent pickup and you’ve got one crowded backfield. It will all have to get sorted out when camp arrives, but it’s a good problem to have.

One thing the Bucs will be examining is what to do on third downs. At those times when Martin leaves the game (though rare), who will take on the role of third-down back? Ware was a last-minute option added to the roster after he was released by the Giants a week before the 2012 season opener. Blount is what he is – a better fit for first and second downs when he’s not forced to pass protect. With Smith, we just don’t know enough yet.

Given the lack of an obvious choice, it’s possible the Bucs look to augment to the position this offseason. And if they do, a crowded backfield becomes even more jam-packed.

[Last modified: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 9:04am]


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