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  1. Bucs

Nothing is going to stand in way of Peyton Barber and his goal to be Bucs’ starting running back

Southern Cal rookie Ronald Jones is struggling a bit in the preseason while Barber is averaging more than 5 yards per carry.

TAMPA – Ask Peyton Barber his approach to training camp or preseason games, and his answer is meant to bull over the questioner as if it's all that's standing between him and the goal line.

"I think the end-all goal for me is to be the starting running back for this upcoming season,'' Barber said. "The way I approach it is I go into it as if it's my last game that I'm ever going to play.''

Maybe that's why Barber's last game always seems to be a little better than the game before.

In the Bucs' preseason opener at Miami, Barber rushed four times for 21 yards and a touchdown. In Saturday's 30-14 win at Tennessee, Barber carried the ball six time for 32 yards, including an 18-yard run the second time the Bucs called his number.

But wait, this wasn't supposed to happen.

When the Bucs used a second-round draft pick in April on flash-and-dash Southern Cal running back Ronald Jones, it was reasonable to think the third-year pro from Auburn would let him go to the front of the line.

Instead, Barber announced that if somebody wanted the ball, they would have to take it from him.

It's not boasting if you can back it up, and Barber is backing it up.

One guy who doesn't sound like he needs any more convincing is coach Dirk Koetter. When asked if Barber is performing like the starting running back, Koetter said yes.

"That's exactly what he should be doing. He only had (six) carries (Saturday) night, but he averaged over five yards a carry (5.3). He had an explosive run," Koetter said.

"You guys have talked to him. Peyton is a very serious guy, and he's got his eye on the prize and right where it should be. He's doing everything he should be doing right now, and I think if we went out there and gave it to Peyton 20 times, we'd like what he does. But we're not going to do that in a preseason game.''

Helping Barber is Jones having struggled a bit. Against the Titans, he had 2 yards rushing on four attempts. That's worse than his 9 yards on eight carries at Miami.

Jones also has a lot of work to do as a receiver, having caught only 32 passes in three seasons at USC. In Thursday's practice against the Titans, Jones fumbled twice.

But in the NFL, few bell-cow running backs stay on the field for three downs. The physical pounding is too much for one back. And situational football dictates that a team needs a number of backs to carry the mail.

"Ronald, he's a beast,'' Barber said. "He's definitely a special back. He's a lot stronger than people think, also. Quick. Can catch. Block. He's definitely pushing me.

"I think I can see us as that one-two punch, just how the Saints do it with Alvin (Kamara) and Marc (Ingram).''

Ingram is a strong inside runner like Barber. Kamara was the NFL offensive rookie of the year last year after rushing for 728 yards and adding 826 receiving yards.

Jones is not nearly as NFL ready as Kamara was, particularly in the passing game. So Barber will likely have to shoulder a lot of the load for the running game early this season.

An undrafted free agent, Barber entered the NFL draft in 2016 as a redshirt sophomore after rushing for 1,017 yards and 13 touchdowns at Auburn. He was motivated to make money to help his mother, who was homeless and living with his sister and her three kids in an apartment.

Barber signed with the Bucs but was released on the final roster cut down. After a week on the practice squad, he was promoted to the active roster, where he made his mark on special teams.

Last season, even with Doug Martin serving a three-game suspension, Barber languished on the bench. After the opener against the Bears, when he rushed 10 times for 47 yards, Barber had only two rushing attempts over the next six games. It wasn't until Martin was suspended a game for violating team rules that he took off.

Barber produced the Bucs' only 100-yard rushing game when he went for 102 yards in a 26-20 overtime loss at Green Bay. He averaged 67 yards per game over the last five games, with a healthy 4.28 yards per carry.

"I feel I'm an every-down back,'' Barber said. "I can catch, I can block, I can run. I'm a lot quicker than what you would think, also.''

Barber is a potent, punishing running threat. If he finishes the preseason the way he finishes runs, he will be starting at New Orleans on Sept. 9.