Of all the position battles about to take place in training camp, the one with the least importance to me is the battle at running back. Like most teams, it appears the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are set to go to a split back system that is heavy on the run. With a stable of four solid NFL players (Earnest Graham, Derrick Ward, Clifton Smith, and Carnell Williams), the Bucs appear ready to run the ball 30+ times a game. Barring an injury, it also looks like they have the depth that most teams crave, with each player playing a specific role where they have had success. And with the injuries that seem to spring up, depth is never a bad thing to have.
But does it matter who carries the title of "starter"? Ward wasn't the starter in New York last year and finished with over 1,000 yards. MJD out in Jacksonville wasn't the starter and he's done fairly well. Graham has been the starter, along with Cadillac, and both have performed very well, but both have been bitten with the injury bug also. That title of starter becomes less important at a rotating position like running back. Granted, only one guy can carry the ball at a time, but when you are looking to grind out the yards on the ground, it takes two or three healthy guys to do that. Based on those facts, I think it's pretty easy to argue that who starts doesn't make a bit of difference. All four guys will get some time in at running back, whether injuries are involved or not. Being able to rotate between 2 or 3 guys will not only keep them fresh, rested, healthy (hopefully), and lessen the wear on them, it will allow them to go full speed ahead and wear down the defense.
Graham and Ward and even a healthy Cadillac could all make the argument for being a starter. Clifton will be pulling returning duties and by default won't be a starter. But with an offense poised to focus on the running back position, it doesn't seem to make a difference. The best examples could be the 2008 Giants and 2008 Panthers. Both teams featured two starting-caliber backs (some would say the Giants had 3 with Bradshaw) and it served them well all year. I wouldn't be surprised if they are being told to keep the egos out of it, realize that even if you don't start, you're gonna get touches, and focus on chewing up yards and the clock. Based on what Jagodzinski has said, we're looking at a heavy dose (30+ times) of running, and by no means does it look like an 80/20 split for carries. I imagine Ward and Graham see the bulk much like the Giants did with Jacobs and Ward, and Cadillac or Clifton will come in for the appropriate situation or spelling of the dual starters.
The "battle" begins in a few days, but with each of these guys, I think Jags finds a role for them. Running back may be the one and only position I feel completely comfortable with, as long as everyone stays healthy. It's nice to have at least one position where we feel set, at least for 2009.