1. Bucs

Bucs coach Greg Schiano says running back battle is fluid, could go into season

Published Aug. 12, 2012

TAMPA — Shedding tacklers never has been an issue for LeGarrette Blount. What took a little more effort was making the pounds fall off him.

"I feel faster. I feel a lot quicker," Blount said after the Bucs' 20-7 preseason win Friday over the Dolphins in Miami.

He claims to have lost 5-10 pounds and is in obviously better condition than 2011: "I feel a lot lighter on my feet."

Perhaps, but Blount might not be fast enough to run away from rookie Doug Martin in the battle for the No. 1 running back spot. Just as the elusive Martin might not be able to shake Blount.

Coach Greg Schiano would prefer to ride one back throughout the season. But what Blount and Martin proved Friday is both deserve an opportunity to split touches until one clearly wins the job.

In the meantime, the Bucs believe they have enough footballs to go around for both of them.

"I think no matter what the decision is, I think they've both shown already they're going to help us, and they're both going to run the ball," Schiano said Saturday. "So I think it's going to be a fluid situation until somebody kind of distinguishes themselves as deserving more touches, and that will go into that lead and trail back deal.

"But I can't tell you how it's going to go right now. I don't know."

Both had solid performances against the Dolphins.

Blount had 30 yards on seven rushing attempts and a 1-yard touchdown leap to cap the team's first possession.

Martin finished with 21 yards on seven carries, including a 2-yard touchdown run to punctuate a 92-yard drive on the second possession.

Each caught a pass. Blount split wide to the left of the formation and caught a bubble screen for 3 yards. Martin circled out of the backfield and turned a swing pass into a 7-yard gain.

"It definitely lets teams know that you're not one-dimensional," Blount said. "It lets teams know you can do certain things in other areas. … But I'm definitely going to be the same type of back I've always been."

The running back-by-committee approach is certainly one that is common in the NFL. Since the powerful Blount and explosive Martin have complementary running styles, they each will play important roles on offense. Schiano was asked if the battle could continue into the regular season?

"Sure. Until it happens, I'm not going to make it happen," Schiano said. "If I feel it should go one way and the staff feels that way, then we'll do it. Otherwise, we have two good backs, and a lot of teams do that in this day and age."

The Bucs are no strangers to the two-back system. Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn split carries from 1996 to 2001, until Dunn signed as a free agent with the Falcons.

The 5-foot-9, 215-pound Martin is thick enough to handle a bigger workload, but the Bucs still aren't sure how much punishment he can take.

The biggest beneficiary of the increased emphasis on the ground game will be quarterback Josh Freeman, who won't have to carry the entire offense on his right shoulder.

And after one preseason game, at least, Schiano seems content to play King Solomon and split the carries between Blount and Martin.

"We can definitely be the best duo in the NFL, with the schemes that we have, with the offensive line that we have, with the blocking and the confidence (Martin) has in me and the confidence I have in him," Blount said. "It's definitely going to be a really good fit. We have the potential to be the best backfield in the league."

Staff writer Stephen F. Holder contributed to this report.