The man of the hour seems to be Kareem Huggins. He's been talked about by just about every Bucs fan, media member, coach and player. He's been seen working hard, giving unlimited amounts of energy and becoming Mr. August 2009. The problem? He's 5th on the depth chart behind 4 pretty solid guys.
So what do you do if you're Raheem Morris?
This is a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. We've seen it crop up at kicker, quarterback and now running back. While Huggins has lit up the backfield, he was and is a longshot to make the team. The Bucs, or any team need as many quality guys as possible, but can't carry an excess at any one position and risk being short staffed at another position.
So where does Kareem fit in? This is a tough question, particularly after seeing him play more mop up duty in preseason than anything else. He's a tough, quick runner, who relies on speed and agility. I don't think he's a pile mover, but he is much like other backups in that it's effort driven, not talent driven. That's not to say he isn't talented, but he's probably going to perform at 100% of his talent level, which makes his a mediocre 3rd back as compared to a more mainstream back who goes at 80% to be a quality back up.
I can't find a place for Hugs on the roster. The fact of the matter is Graham and Ward are here to stay, no surprises there. Ward is the big free agent acquisition, an aggressive one-cut runner who apparently has an affinity for leaping over man sized objects. Graham has become a fan favorite, a former Mr. August who has risen to NFL starting fame. With the deals these two have, the favor they have found with the coaching staff, and their abilities, these guys are Bucs for 2009 and beyond.
Clifton Smith is not only an asset at running back, but a Pro Bowl return guy. With Smith performing at multiple positions (KR/PR/RB/ST), he isn't going anywhere. Versatility is valued for the lower roster guys. Smith also has shown he can get the job done at running back, if he holds on to the ball. As a undrafted free agent who has a Pro Bowl to his name, the value far exceeds the cost.
That leaves Cadillac and Hugs. Any other year, or in a year in which the Bucs were close to the salary cap limit, I'd say Caddy might be cut to keep Hugs. But with money essentially being a non-factor, I don't see Caddy being dropped for Hugs. Cadillac is a form of insurance for EG and Ward (bigger back who can carry the load, and yes I know he's been injured). Cadillac is a former 1,000 yard back, and though he gets hurt, can be a huge asset to the team. He shouldn't have the same knee injury ever, as doctors have said once the patella tendon is repaired/replaced, it's good to go. So he has that going for him. Plus with the rehab, the fans being behind him, his last year of the deal, I don't know that it makes sense to cut a #5 pick when depth, contract, and ability all lay in the Buc's favor.
I imagine that they'll talk Hugs up, say he has performed as well as anyone else, and then try to sneak him through to the practice squad. We may need him in a week if Graham's ankle doesn't heal up. Who knows if Clifton or Caddy or even Ward can go 16 games, so Hugs may be able to get to the NFL level with the Bucs. He may get picked up by someone else.
It's a tough decision in the NFL world. An excess of talented guys at one position. If Hugs played DB, there would be no question he'd make the team this year. With the preseason being half over, it's a matter of time until that 5th running back is cut loose. Morris could pull a stunner and keep 5 RB's, but with the lack of depth at key positions (OL, DB), it would be a risky move.