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Did the Buccaneers improve at running back this season?

We continue our improvement series with the running back position. Do Mike James and Michael Smith represent an upgrade over Legarrette Blount?


Have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers improved at running back since last season? Let's take a look at the evidence before we delve a little deeper.

2012 Roster: Doug Martin, Legarrette Blount, D.J. Ware, Michael Smith

2013 Roster: Doug Martin, Mike James, Michael Smith, Matt Brown, Brian Leonard

Advantage: 2012

Doug Martin is Doug Martin is the Muscle Hamster is the Dougernaut. He's a terrific running back, probably a top 5 running back in the NFL, who's versatile enough to be a very significant contributor in the passing game. The pre-draft Ray Rice comparisons look particularly accurate right now. Doug Martin's awesome.

But what about the players behind Martin? Last season the Bucs had a very experienced and reasonably productive third-down back in D.J. Ware. It wasn't his fault that he kept having to field screen passes and draws on third down because the Bucs' coaches were too scared to attempt to actually pick up a first down on third-and-long.

The Bucs will now expect Brian Leonard to fill that role, and he may actually provide an upgrade there. He at least has been more productive in the passing games over the past few years, although he has been significantly more injury-prone. Leonard vs. Ware may be a wash.

But what the Buccaneers lack right now is a back who can actually carry the ball and be the foundation of the offense if Martin were to go down. Last season they had a back who they could legitimately feed and expect to be productive in Legarrette Blount, as flawed as he is. This season, though? They're relying on 2012 7th-rounder Michael Smith and 2013 6th-rounder Mike James to become that player. Combined NFL carries to date: 0. Forgive me for not having much confidence in this plan.

So if you ask me, the Bucs actually regressed at running back by replacing Legarrette Blount with a pair of complete unknowns with mediocre college pedigrees.

Previously: did the Buccaneers improve at quarterback?

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