Tampa Bay Bucs: Bringing Back a Running Game to Gain Relevance

TAMPA, MAY 16, 2018 – Quick… I’m going to ask you a question, and you’ll need to answer it quickly without thinking too much about it.  Ok? Here goes…

When was the last time the Buccaneers were a relevant football team?  And what two qualities did they exhibit to make them relevant?  GO!! Answer…

If you stated the years 2016 or 2010… the answer is not close.  Having a winning record does NOT make you relevant… it just makes you better than average.  You counter with 2007 and 2005, along with 2001 and 2000, and I counter with this – yes, you made the Playoffs, but you lost the Wild Card Game ALL FOUR TIMES, which is not saying much… just playing one extra game and delaying your golf vacation for a week.

No… I’m going to have to go back to their Super Bowl winning year of 2002, and I’ll also add the years 1999, 1979 and 1997, as the Bucs advanced to the NFC Conference Championships in those first two years listed and (with a bye) an exit in the Divisional Round in the last, respectively.

So what made these teams the RELEVANT teams for the Bucs?  Of course it was their Defense under Monte Kiffin – which is one of the qualities I was looking for in the answer- but it was also a strong, dynamic Running Game under Michael Pittman, Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn.

In fact, even before the Bucs started having winning seasons, they at least had strong running backs like Rickey Bell, James Wilder (their All-Time leader in rushing yards) and Errict Rhett to help salvage woeful offenses under such schizophrenic quarterbacking of Doug Williams, Steve DeBerg  and Trent Dilfer.

Coach Dirk Koetter likely wants to get back to that winning formula of a strong defense and a dynamic running game, and the Bucs did address the former in Free-Agency and the Draft.  What the Bucs were lucky enough to accomplish in the latter was acquiring USC Running Back Ronald Jones II with the 38th overall pick in the second round last month in Dallas.  Jones will complement incumbent backs Peyton Barber (last season’s leading rusher with 423yards) and predominant 3rd down specialist Jacquizz Rodgers (Bucs’ leading rusher in 2016 with 560yards).

Jones is the latest performer from ‘Running Back U’ – USC, so somewhere upstairs Coach John McKay is smiling.  You’ll remember McKay was USC’s long-time Head Coach who won four National Championships in his 15years at Southern Cal, relying on a stable of great Running Backs like Heisman Trophy Winners Mike Garrett and O.J. Simpson.  USC also had superior athletes in the backfield like Sam Cunningham and Anthony Davis, along with Rickey Bell, who followed to Tampa when McKay was named their first Head Coach in 1976.

Statistically at USC (2015-2017), Jones’ least productive year rushing was his freshman effort in 2015, when he ONLY rushed for 987yards for a 6.5avg and 8TDs (he scored an additional touchdown via a pass reception).  Jones followed up with the following – 1082yds/6.1avg/12TDs/1TD for 2016 and 1486yds/6.1avg/19TDs/1TD last year in 2017.  Jones opted to skip his senior year for the 2018 Draft.

Jones was the class of the PAC12 Running Backs in 2017, and will be relied on to continue getting stronger, adding more muscle onto his 6’0”, 200lb frame.  His elusiveness, ‘quicks’ and overall shiftiness with tremendous burst shouldn’t suffer even with the added weight, which he’ll need to sustain the hitting from a much larger, stout and sometimes just as quick linebacker and defensive back corps he’ll be going up against (not to mention the gargantuan behemoths he’ll face in practice every day along the Bucs’ defensive front).

Needless to say, the Bucs haven’t had a dynamic Running Back which could both run over, through and away from defenders since Doug Martin’s 1400+ yards in 2012 and 2015, so Jones will be counted on to be THE stud in the backfield which they’ve been missing since the days of Pittman, Alstott and Dunn.

Yes indeed Bucs’ fans…you have something to cheer about if things go as planned for the NFC South’s Cellar Dwellers of 2017.  As you remember, Tampa Bay was the only team from the Division to miss the Playoffs this past year.  If all of the additions on Defense come through for the Bucs this year, and they get productive effort statistically from quarterback Jameis Winston and their assemblage of backs and receivers, the Pewter Pirates may again find themselves in a Playoff hunt… or beyond.

Jay “Captain Jack” Levy, BCP Contributor