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Bucs' Bruce Arians doesn’t plan running-back shuffle

Leonard Fournette ran for 104 yards Sunday, but the coach plans to leave Ronald Jones as the starter.
Bucs running back Leonard Fournette celebrates his 46-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game.
Bucs running back Leonard Fournette celebrates his 46-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Sep. 21, 2020

TAMPA — Leonard Fournette ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s 31-17 win over the Carolina Panthers, marking just the fourth time since the start of 2017 that a Bucs running back eclipsed the 100-yard mark.

But head coach Bruce Arians said he’s not planning to give Fournette, who signed with the team two weeks ago, the starting running-back job over Ronald Jones because he likes having a fresh Fournette available in the fourth quarter.

Fournette had 84 of his 104 rushing yards in the final 10 minutes of the game, including a 46-yard touchdown run that sealed the win inside two minutes. He was able to provide strong downhill running, moving the chains while keeping the clock going.

Arians likes that formula, leaning on Fournette late, while playing Jones early and keeping veteran LeSean McCoy involved as a pass-catching back.

Bucs running back Ronald Jones (27) rushes during the first quarter of Sunday's win over the Panthers.
Bucs running back Ronald Jones (27) rushes during the first quarter of Sunday's win over the Panthers. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

So don’t expect Arians to give Fournette RB1 status, even though he believes he will play a bigger role as he gets a better hold of the offensive playbook.

“I love the way it works out right now,” Arians said. “To have Leonard come in (with) fresh legs in the fourth quarter and pound it like that, very few teams have that combination.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back LeSean McCoy (25) works to break tackles against the Carolina Panthers during the first half at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020 in Tampa.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back LeSean McCoy (25) works to break tackles against the Carolina Panthers during the first half at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020 in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Jones' seven-yard touchdown run gave the Bucs their first score of the day, and he did well with his blitz pickups — pass-blocking mistakes landed him on the bench last season — but was at fault on a botched exchange that led to a fumble. McCoy caught six passes, including three that resulted in first downs.

Fournette logged a 100-yard game in just his second game as a Buc, a feat that has been rare for the Bucs.

The Bucs have had just one 100-yard rushing game in each of the last three seasons, most recently a 106-yard game by Jones against Atlanta in last year’s season finale, his only career 100-yard game. Peyton Barber had a 102-yard game in 2017 and a 106-yard game in 2018.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.