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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Help is on the way for Buccaneers struggling running game

Roy Cummings

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Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire

TAMPA – Remember when so many thought the Buccaneers were just going to flat out cut running back Doug Martin after he was suspended for violating the NFL’s PED policy and admitting to a drug dependency issue last year?

Well, we are now seeing why that never really was a viable option and why it’s likely that inside the walls of One Buc Place right now, the Bucs are counting the days until Martin returns.

For the record, that number stands at five. Martin, who served the first game of his four-game suspension in Week 17 of last year, can return to the Bucs on Monday, the day after the Bucs play the Giants.

That means Martin could be back in the lineup as soon as next Thursday, when the Bucs take on the Super Bowl champion Patriots, and despite the fact he may be a bit out shape he probably will be.

The alternative, of course, is to stick with the group of backs the Bucs have been using but it’s hard to imagine the Bucs doing that because that group has been largely ineffective so far this year.

Granted it’s only been two games, but so far the Bucs are gaining an average of just 71.5 rushing yards per game, 26th in the league, and just 3.3 yards per carry, also 26th in the league.

Now, part of the problem is that a week ago, for example, the Bucs got behind early in the game and only handled the ball off eight times, including once on an end-around to Bernard Reedy.

But it didn’t help matters that on the first play of their first offensive series, while down 7-0, Jacquizz Rodgers ran for no gain or that their second rushing attempt, also on a first down, gained just 3 yards.

That second rushing attempt by the way was that end-around to Reedy, which came after quarterback Jameis Winston had completed two straight passes of 17 yards to Mike Evans and 18 yards to Chris Godwin.

That kind of production in the passing game usually opens up the running game a bit, but that didn’t really happen against the Vikings last week or   against the Bears the week before.

The Bucs gained 117 yards on 34 carries against the Bears, but the only back that really got going against them was Peyton Barber, who ran 10 times for 47 yards in a close-out role in the second half.

Prior to Barber getting into the game Rodgers and Charles Sims ran a combined 12 times for just 35 yards (2.9 per carry), 9 of which came on a first-down run by Rodgers.

That 9-yard run was more of an anomaly than it appears, though, because one of the biggest problems the Bucs have had running the ball has come when they’ve tried to run it on first down.

The Bucs have handed the ball off 27 times on first down this year and gained 102 yards or 3.7 yards per carry. But of those 27 runs, 18 have gone for 3 yards or less and 12 of those have gone for 2 yards or less.

Now, that trend could suddenly change this week. Opponents are running for an average of 153.3 yards and 4.5 yards per carry against the Giants, so this is a game in which the Bucs running game could get well.

If it doesn’t, well, it still may not be long before it does because Martin will soon be back and if we’ve learned anything through these first two games it’s that he is still the Bucs best back. Of course, that’s why the Bucs never cut him.

Roy Cummings is a native of Chicago, Illinois who grew up in the suburb of Lombard. He and his family later moved to Lakeland, Florida, where Roy attended high school at Kathleen High. He graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor's Degree in Mass Communications in 1983 and immediately went to work for the Tampa Tribune. After five years working in a Polk County bureau covering everything from high school sports to college football to the Orlando Magic of the NBA, Roy moved back to Tampa and became the Tribune's first beat writer for the Tampa Bay Lightning, covering the team from its inception through the first eight years on the ice. He was then moved to the Buccaneers beat, where he stayed until the paper was folded in May, 2016. A two-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year, Roy has extensive experience covering all Tampa professional sports teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs DE Barrett basked in first Pro Bowl appearance Wednesday

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Off the best pass-rushing season in Buccaneers history, potential free-agent defensive end Shaq Barrett was soaking things in Wednesday in Orlando.

That’s where the NFC and AFC top players have congregated for the 2020 Pro Bowl coming Sunday.

Barrett, who set the Buccaneers single-season sack record with 19.5 this past season, ended up being the lone Buccaneer able to play in the game. This, after receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin have both had to bow out due to hamstring injuries.

Barrett got props on day one from one from Cardinals DE Chandler Jones, whom he battled for the sack title all the way down to the final Sunday of the season:

Barrett then got to hangout and sign autographs with the fans assembled at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. The sixth year player out of Colorado State, who was originally undrafted but signed with the Broncos in 2014, then told the media, he’s looking for a big-money free-agent deal. And, further, his preference is that he stays in Tampa Bay.

After all, Barrett surpassed anyone’s expectation in 2019, while playing for a modest one-year free agent deal and betting on himself to cash-in. And now, after his agent Drew Rosenhaus and Bucs GM Jason Licht are done, it appears he will be making in the neighborhood of $18-20 million per year just like the top pass rushers in the NFL.

The Bucs also have the possibility of putting the franchise tag for 2020 on Barrett which would also be valued around that same amount for just the one season.

One final cool moment came Wednesday, where Barrett got introduced to a young Buccaneers fan who’s enduring tremendous family hardship with one parent battling cancer and another suffering from the debilitating ALS disease. After signing an autograph for the young man, Barrett gave him the surprise of his young life with two tickets to next weekend’s Super Bowl in Miami:

And just like that fantastic reward, Barrett will soon be similarly rewarded for his fantastic year and upcoming potential. And most likely, it will be in Tampa Bay for a long time.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Evans got respect from LeBron James Saturday night

Florida Football Insiders

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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The new present day cliche’ for respect among athletes/opponents in sports is: “Game Recognizes Game.” And, there was a neat example of that Saturday night, as the Houston Rockets of the NBA hosted the L.A. Lakers. That’s when iconic NBA star LeBron James of the Lakers came over to acknowledge Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans in the seats behind him.

As you probably know, James is arguably the most recognizable and successful NBA hoops player worldwide in the last 10+ years. He’s a 15 time All Star, a four time MVP, and helped the Miami Heat win two World Championships. And, then came back to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who originally drafted him out of high school, and led them to the city’s epic first professional title in any sport in over 50 years back in 2016.

And, LeBron has the Lakers rolling at 34-8 with another win in Houston last night.

As for Evans, he is a Tampa Bay Buccaneers biggest offensive weapon and was having a tremendous 2019 season statistically until it was cut short with a hamstring injury in the Bucs early December win over the Indianapolis Colts.

That’s when Evans suffered a severe hamstring injury on a 61 yard touchdown catch from Jameis Winston and did not play another down in 2019. Still, he joined teammate Chris Godwin, as they both went over 1,000 yards for the season, which was the first time in Tampa Bay history that that happened.

Evans is also only the second player in league history, besides Randy Moss, to have 1,000 or more yards receiving in a season in his first six years in the NFL.

Further, it’s also well-known that Evan is a huge fan of the NBA and he’s originally from Galveston, Texas and play in college at Texas A&M. So, it’s only fitting that he would be courtside during the off-season and the Rockets game against the Lakers.

Evans has made mention earlier in his career that he had met and talked to LeBron James on previous occasions. One reason that Evans brought that up during the season, was his touchdown celebration dance when Tampa Bay outgunned the L.A. Rams in late September.

In that 48 – 40 win Evans caught this clinching fourth-quarter bomb touchdown from Winston and then, celebrated with LeBron James’s signature dance move

James has previously and frequently used that on the court after a big moment, a big win or a championship.

Again “Game recognizes Game,” and clearly James wanted to give some recognition to the Bucs star whiteout Saturday night courtside at his own game.

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