TAMPA FL - DECEMBER 19: Running back Earnest Graham #34 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs through the tackle of linebacker Bobby Carpenter #59 of the Detroit Lions during the game at Raymond James Stadium on December 19 2010 in Tampa Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
And now we come to our final installment of Season In Review. We've discussed all the regular positions, with the exception of the running backs and full backs. I'm going to discuss these two together as they're somewhat interchangeable, as evidenced by Earnest Graham's performance. Graham was the starting fullback for the Bucs at the start of the season, and he was backed up by Chris Pressley. The two were quite different in style: Graham was a running back first, pressed into duty as a fullback. While Graham sees the field as if he were a running back, he isn't the thumper Pressley is. Of course, Pressley is a blocker only and added nothing as a runner or pass-catcher, severely limiting his role on offense. Graham, on the other hand, was used as an occasional runner, especially in short yardage, and was frequently used in the passing game, even being split out wide a number of times. But in an effort to get a physical, hard-hitting fullback on the field who could also run a little and catch the ball the Bucs converted DE Erik Lorig to a FB and TE. Lorig did a good job as a blocker, though he can improve his technique, and he seems like a better fit as a pass-catcher, but hasn't really done much in that respect either. It looks like Graham and Lorig will continue to be the fullbacks in 2011, with Lorig perhaps taking over as the main blocker so Graham can contribute in other ways.
With the fullbacks out of the way, we can move on to the running backs. While the Bucs started the preseason with Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward and Kareem Huggins on the depth chart, in that order, things quickly changed. Derrick Ward's lackluster preseason performance and his poor work during the offseason led to his release before the season started. To replace him the Bucs claimed Kregg Lumpkin off waivers from the Packers. Lumpkin barely got on the field during the season though, because of another waiver wire pickup: Legarrette Blount, the main reason the Bucs even had a running game in 2010.
But let's start with Cadillac Williams instead. Caddy had shown he could still be a somewhat effective running back in 2009, and the Bucs hoped that he'd be better with a full offseason focusing on improving his playing ability instead of on recovering from an injury. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. Cadillac was the main running back for the first 5 games of the season, and produced the amazing statline of 76 carries for 190 yards, or 2.5 yards per carry. This abysmal production wasn't all Williams' fault though, as the offensive line did him no favors. But even with the worst offensive line in the league, 2.5 yards per carry simply isn't any good.
Bucs fans hoped instead that Kareem Huggins could add something to the running game, as his preseason production seemed to be promising. For some unexplained reason, Huggins only managed 4 carries through the first 5 games of the season before suffering a catastrophic knee injury, ending his season. The knee injury is so severe that it isn't even clear whether he'll be ready for the 2011 season, it could even end his football career. A shame for an explosive running back who showed some promise.
Instead of Huggins then, Blount became the focus of the Bucs' running game. And the Oregon product certainly didn't disappoint, managing 1,007 yards and 6 touchdowns in just 201 carries. Blount was at times truly stunning, producing spectacular runs where he ran through and jumped over various defenders. The big running back isn't without his faults, and had to be relieved as a short-yardage back by Earnest Graham, but shows tremendous promise and production. If he can continue to improve in 2011, I really believe Blount can be the best running back in the league.
The emergence of Blount as a running back allowed Cadillac Williams to take up a slightly different role. Because Blount was ineffective as a pass blocker and catcher, those became Cadillac's primary responsibilities. The veteran running back turned out to be an excellent pass blocker, knowing his assignments and buying Freeman just the bit of time he needed to complete some crucial passes. As a pass catcher, Williams became very good as well. Many of Freeman's late-game drives featured Williams catching dumpoff after dumpoff and turning them into first downs. He ended the season with an excellent 46 catches for 355 yards. As his workload as a running back decreased, his effectiveness increased as well. After Blount took over as the lead back, Cadillac ran the ball 49 more times for 247 yards, or 5.0 yards per carry. While the increased effectiveness is to an extent caused by the situations in which he was used, Cadillac simply seemed to be a better runner as well. The pairing of Cadillac Williams and Legarrette Blount really worked very well, and if the Bucs can re-sign Williams they should be set for next season at the position.