TAMPA — On the eve of the biggest football game of his life, Bobby Rainey got a phone call from his former coach at Western Kentucky. The hot-footed running back, who had been claimed by the Bucs off waivers from the Browns only three weeks earlier, didn't figure to play much on Monday Night Football against the Dolphins.
Maybe Willie Taggart, now in his first year as coach at USF, had a premonition. Or maybe he knew more Rainey days were ahead for Tampa Bay, which had already had three running backs succumb to season-ending injuries.
"I talked to him Sunday and just told him, 'You're on the national stage,' " said Taggart, who coached Rainey at WKU. "I told him what I tell our football team, 'The spotlight does strange thing to some people. Some people show up and show out, and some people hide in the spotlight. You only get one time to make a first impression, Bobby. Make them know your name.' And sure enough, he went out and helped his football team get in the win column."
Rainey, 26, entered Monday's game after starting running back Mike James broke his ankle near the goal line on the first possession of the game when Dolphins linebacker Dannell Ellerbe fell across his leg.
Splitting time with Brian Leonard, Rainey scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard run with 10:19 left to help the Bucs beat Miami 22-19. His touchdown came one play after he exploded for 31 yards. He finished with 45 yards on eight carries and a touchdown.
When you consider that second-year pro Mike Smith was placed on injured reserve with a torn foot ligament in preseason, the Bucs have lost four tailbacks to injury: Doug Martin, James, Jeff Demps and Smith. The team in September cut Peyton Hillis, who has since filled in for the Giants.
"So it's four tailbacks ago that we're playing right now," Schiano said. "But as I often stand up here and say, nobody cares, right? Who do you got? Put him out there and let's see if he can do it. That's what I talk to our team about.
"Because he certainly showed up big last night and is going to have to show up big the rest of the season."
Rainey got regular-season action this season with Cleveland, rushing for 34 yards on 13 carries in six games. He entered the league with the Ravens in 2012, spending three games on the roster before being placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.
Rainey was with a Western Kentucky team that lost 22 straight until Taggart helped turn the Hilltoppers around beginning in 2010.
"I know how it feels," Rainey said. "I've been on that side. Coming here and knowing that we are struggling, to get a win and like I experienced, you have to just keep pushing."
Can the Bucs keep pushing the football on the ground after losing four running backs? Schiano says they can.
"I have faith in our offensive line," Schiano said. "And Bobby Rainey showed that he's a good running back, and Brian Leonard is a good running back. It may not be where one guy is getting all the carries or the lion's share of the carries. I think we're going to have to mix it up a little bit. Brian is a 30-year-old running back, even though he hasn't had a ton of carries, he's still 30 years old. You're not going to wear him out. And Bobby, I think, has a certain feel about him. It wasn't too big for him (Monday) night."