The running back that no one wanted took a step forward, then veered sharply to his right. He slid smoothly into his pass pattern, a ghost moving toward empty space. Once there, he caught the pass, then turned upfield.
Just like that, the approval rating of Charles Sims grew.
By maybe a half-inch.
He is the underappreciated one, the one none of us would have drafted, the one none of us saw coming. And already he is on the move. Someday, perhaps, all of Tampa Bay will cheer his name. Someday, perhaps, his soft voice will speak for the Bucs.
For now, however, Sims is just another rookie trying to earn his way.
For now, he is still the Mystery Man.
It was Sims whose name shocked all of Tampa Bay in the recent draft. Remember, it was the third round, and the entire planet expected the Bucs to take an offensive lineman. Maybe a defensive end. Maybe a quarterback.
And then the name came in.
To a great many of us, this seemed to make no sense. Of all the positions, running back seemed to be the Bucs' deepest. If you had polled every Bucs fan alive, fewer than 2 percent would have guessed a running back at that position, and no one would have expected Sims. Not with Tre Mason of Auburn and Devonta Freeman of FSU, opponents in this year's college title game, both still on the boards.
And so the grades were not kind. Some suggested the Bucs had blown the pick. Some called it an F. Some called it a D. Very few suggested it was genius.
"Who are the people you're talking about?" said coach Lovie Smith. "We love him. We have an excellent running back coach who liked Matt Forte when no one else did. Tim Spencer came up to me after the Senior Bowl talking about Charles Sims. Whether someone else liked him, he's a very good football player. In time, everyone else will like him."
Maybe. At the time, however, it seemed like a confusing pick. Could the Bucs have been after an offensive tackle? Maybe. Three of the previous five picks had been tackles. Or, could it suggest the Bucs might not be as sold on the running back corps as everyone else?
After all, Mike James was a sixth-round draft pick. And Bobby Rainey was found on the waiver wire.
And then there is Doug Martin. Who knows what the new Bucs regime really thinks of him?
I know, I know. Martin was sensational as a rookie. But even before he was injured last year, Martin had only one 100-yard game in six starts. Besides, as teams move from one coach to another, the regard they have for holdovers can change.
For instance, Bruce Gradkowski was a Jon Gruden guy. So was Antonio Bryant. Neither seemed to garner much appreciation from Raheem Morris, the next coach. Morris, on the other hand, liked LeGarrette Blount and Josh Freeman. Greg Schiano, the coach after him, didn't like either of them. He liked Mike Williams and Darrelle Revis, neither of whom was particularly valued by the new staff.
Could Martin be one of those guys? Not according to Smith.
"He's our starting tailback," Smith said. "He's on most of the billboards around here. He's an All-Pro running back. There is nothing to dislike about Doug Martin. At the same time, we want Doug around here for many years. You need to have some other guys. He can't carry it every second.''
According to Smith, the Bucs picked Sims because he brings "a different dimension."
"We felt like we had a good running back group," Smith said. "We just felt like Charles would bring something else. I'm talking about as a pass catcher out of the backfield. He has excellent hands, great quickness. He gives us a little more in the passing game than what we've had."
Once, when Smith coached the Bears, Forte did the same. In five seasons under Smith, Forte caught at least 44 passes a year. And even Sims suggests there is similarity between the two.
So how will it work? Just a guess, but Martin should still carry the load on first and second downs. Expect to see a lot of Sims on third downs, coming out of the backfield. James, the guy who usually falls forward, and Rainey, who has rare quickness, will fight for the third running back role.
Somewhere along the line, Sims may start changing minds.
"Most definitely," he said softly. "By my play on the field. I bring a different dimension to the game. I'll be running the ball, catching the ball, pass blocking. I'll just compete."
If he's good enough, of course, he will win fans over. Everyone loves the back who carries the ball to the end zone. Catch by catch, the doubts may fade.
Maybe, just maybe, he's another weapon. If that turns out to be true, you will have known it all along.
Gary Shelton can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8805.