1. Bucs

Bucs' James making another run from the NFL fringe

Mike James was the Bucs’ sixth-round pick in 2013.
Mike James was the Bucs’ sixth-round pick in 2013.
Published Nov. 12, 2016

TAMPA — Mike James has felt the warm glow of the spotlight, the joy of rushing for 158 yards in an NFL game, that feeling of belonging at the sport's highest level.

Much more recently, he has known the doubt of extended time on the fringe of the NFL, on rosters but inactive on Sundays, on practice squads and cut loose.

But James is back in a Bucs uniform. His No. 25 could be back in the spotlight Sunday as Tampa Bay continues to endure a wild rash of injuries that has four running backs on the sideline. That moment could be his again.

"It's been tough, just trying to persevere through it," said James, 25, a sixth-round pick for the Bucs out of Miami in 2013. "I'm happy to be back."

The first time starter Doug Martin was sidelined by injury, James grabbed the opportunity, rushing for 158 yards as a rookie in a loss at Seattle. He never rushed for 100 yards in four years with the Hurricanes, but he was thriving, even throwing for a touchdown against Seattle.

A week later, he broke his ankle and was done for the year. The next season, with a new coach and new role in a new offense, he gained 32 yards on 20 touches.

In 2015, he never played, inactive for his five weeks on the Bucs' roster and spending the rest of the year on their practice squad. This September, a late hamstring injury forced the team to waive him days before the season opener.

After three years playing an hour from his hometown in Polk County, of calling Tampa home, James got a call from the Lions for their practice squad and moved his young family to Michigan, only to be cut three weeks later.

One man's injury is another man's opportunity, as Bucs coach Dirk Koetter says. The same back who lost his job due to injury in September got it back after another injury in November, and now he has coaches and teammates again pulling for him.

"Mike's one of those guys that's just a joy to be around," Koetter said. "He always has a smile on his face. He always brings energy. Mike's one of those guys you cheer for. He's the right kind of guy."

The Bucs likely will continue to be without Martin on Sunday, with Charles Sims, Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith also injured. Rookie Peyton Barber got a shot last week but having another week to get his bearings could have James in a major role Sunday against the Bears.

"I knew when we cut him at the beginning of the season that it hurt him," running backs coach Tim Spencer said. "He works his butt off. Mike's an intelligent football player. He fits well with what we're going to do. He got hurt right at the end, and it was unfortunate. But he's persevered."

James' opportunity validates four seasons of hard work and hope.

"If you work hard enough, you put the time in, your work doesn't go in vain," he said. "It's hard. You have that internal battle each day: 'Is something going to happen now?' It was a struggle, but I'm happy with the outcome. It's humbling to be brought back by an organization that thinks you can play. I'm thankful."

Contact Greg Auman at and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.


  1. Colin Kaepernick, middle, kneels for the national anthem. He hasn't taken a snap in the NFL for three full seasons now.
    "Inspire Change'' campaign is a sanitized version of what Colin Kaepernick tried to get across by kneeling for the national anthem.
  2. New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) runs on the sideline in the second half of an NFL football game against Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. [ADAM HUNGER  |  AP]
    Manning: “From the very first moment I did it my way.”
  3. NFC cornerback Shaquill Griffin of the Seattle Seahawks gives a thumbs up during Pro Bowl NFL football practice, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) [STEVE LUCIANO  |  AP]
    Third-year Seahawks cornerback is being rewarded for his standout season, and is excited to share it with his family. “We all made the Pro Bowl.”
  4. In this Oct. 23, 2016, file photo, a New Orleans Saints helmet rests on the playing field before an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo. The Saints are going to court to keep the public from seeing hundreds of emails that allegedly show team executives doing public relations damage control for the area's Roman Catholic archdiocese to help it contain the fallout from a burgeoning sexual abuse crisis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File) [JEFF ROBERSON  |  AP]
    Saints attorneys disputed any suggestion that the team helped the church cover up crimes, calling such claims “outrageous.”
  5. NFC quarterback Drew Brees, of the New Orleans Saints, throws a pass during a practice for the NFL Pro Bowl football game Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) [CHRIS O'MEARA  |  AP]
    The Bucs could be impacted as they decide on Jameis Winston, with Brees’ New Orleans backup Teddy Bridgewater as a possible option.
  6. Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (94) celebrates a sack of Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) during the second half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. [REED HOFFMANN  |  AP]
    John Romano | The Bucs played well enough on both sides of the ball to be one of the top 10 teams in the NFL. One stat kept them from possibly being the Chiefs or 49ers.
  7. Former Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm could be an interesting option for the Bucs to consider, if they want to move on from Jameis Winston. [BILL FEIG  |  AP]
    As the Bucs possibly look into moving on from Jameis Winston, here’s what fans should know about this draft’s quarterback class.
  8. In this Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, file photo, then-Patriots receiver Antonio Brown roams the sideline during the first half against the Dolphins in Miami Gardens. Law enforcement authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Brown, who along with his trainer has been accused of attacking a man near Brown's South Florida home in Hollywood. [LYNNE SLADKY  |  AP]
    The troubled NFL wide receiver is accused, along with his trainer, of attacking a man in South Florida.
  9. NFC linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, hands Sean Silverthorn, of Largo, Fla., two tickets to the Super Bowl after a practice for the NFL Pro Bowl football game Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, in Kissimmee, Fla. [CHRIS O'MEARA  |  AP]
    At this time last year, he was a player without a team. Now, having earned his place among the game’s greats, the Buccaneers outside linebacker is making dreams come true for him, his family and a...
  10. In this Feb. 7, 2012 file photo New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning holds up the Vince Lombardi Trophy during the team's NFL football Super Bowl parade in New York. Manning, who led the Giants to two Super Bowls in a 16-year career that saw him set almost every team passing record, has retired. The Giants said Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 that Manning would formally announce his retirement on Friday. [JULIO CORTEZ  |  AP]
    The two-time Super Bowl MVP is calling it quits after 16 seasons, all with the same team.