FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — With no less than depth-chart status, and perhaps roster spots, on the line, maybe it's not surprising the Bucs got inspired efforts from their backup running backs in Friday's 25-21 preseason loss to the Patriots.
Whatever the reason, the sight of Mike James and Peyton Hillis running wild against New England was comforting for Tampa Bay, especially in light of starter Doug Martin's head injury in the first quarter that was ruled not to be a concussion.
James and Hillis combined for 154 yards, a strong showing for newcomers to the organization.
"You have to always be ready," James said. "This game is a tough game. Doug's going to be all right. But running back is a brutal position. You have to be ready when your name is called."
James rushed for 81 yards on 15 carries, including a long of 16 yards. He is vying to be the next running back behind Martin, but he has competition. Brian Leonard is in the conversation, but he was held out to give others a chance for more work.
On this night, Hillis provided the competition. He rushed for 73 yards on 18 carries, the former Browns and Chiefs player becoming more of a factor after being on the roster for just more than three weeks.
At first, "they throw the whole playbook at you and you have to pick it up," Hillis said. "That's one of those things where you're up in the middle of the night studying, trying to pack it all in, afraid you're going to miss something."
But now, Hillis said, he has gained understanding of the scheme, which lets him lean more on his ability. Consistent work against the Patriots didn't hurt, either.
"It's one of those things where you get in a rhythm and get some consistent carries," Hillis said. "In camp, it's been about learning the playbook. Then once you get in there, you feel good again."
The other noteworthy aspect for the running backs: The backups on the offensive line played impressively, opening numerous holes. "The offensive line," James said, "was clicking."