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Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

So who exactly is at running back for Bucs on Thursday?

Antone Smith had the biggest role Sunday, playing 22 snaps in relief of Rodgers and getting four carries for 16 yards.

AP photo

Antone Smith had the biggest role Sunday, playing 22 snaps in relief of Rodgers and getting four carries for 16 yards.

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November

With the Bucs now trying to establish a run game without their top three running backs -- Doug Martin out since Week 2, Charles Sims since Week 4 and now Jacquizz Rodgers sidelined with a sprained foot -- the question for Thursday's game against the Falcons is this: Who's going to run the ball?

The Bucs aren't saying, but they have three running backs to choose from -- veteran Antone Smith, signed two weeks ago off the street; undrafted rookie Peyton Barber, waived and signed back in Week 1, and Mike James, who was waived-injured in Week 1 and signed back on Tuesday from the Lions practice squad.

Smith had the biggest role Sunday, playing 22 snaps in relief of Rodgers and getting four carries for 16 yards; he also had a 30-yard catch the week before in the Bucs' win at San Francisco. Here's the catch: Those four carries Sunday? They matched a career high. Yes, in 66 games in the NFL, Smith has never carried the ball more than four times in a game. He's had 88 yards in a game -- on two carries, against the Bucs no less, in 2013 -- and rushed for a 38-yard score against the Bucs in 2014 and a 48-yard score against the Vikings in 2014, but he's never had more than four carries in a game.

"Just because a person hasn't, doesn't mean they can't," coach Dirk Koetter said Tuesday.

Barber had a strong game off the bench at the 49ers two weeks ago, rushing for 84 yards on 12 carries, including a 44-yard touchdown, but on Sunday, he had only three offensive snaps, compared to 22 for Smith. Koetter said the Bucs had more plays scripted specifically for Smith, who has almost as many career yards receiving as he does rushing.

"We'll be playing more than one halfback," Koetter said, agreeing that it could be done by committee.

James hasn't had a touch in an NFL game in nearly two years, but there is a precedent for him stepping in as a primary back and playing well -- in 2013, as a rookie, he had 28 carries for 158 yards (and a touchdown pass!) in a loss at Seattle. He broke his ankle the next week and has just 78 total rushing yards since. Koetter wouldn't address James during Tuesday's news conference, the last before Thursday's game, because the team hadn't yet announced his signing officially.

[Last modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2016 4:30pm]

    

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