During the Koetter era, the plague of his tenure was turnovers, finishing 5th in total turnovers in 2016, 5th in 2017 and leading the league with a whopping 35 turnovers in 2018. This eliminated the running game as the slow-starting Bucs often abandoned the run quickly. The Bucs finished 24th in rushing in 2016, 27th in 2017, and 29th in 2018. Somehow the term Running “Back” seemed appropriate.
The one thing that is evident is that, to borrow from Bruce Arians, the production “doesn’t match” the talent. If Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich is interested, he has some unused ability on the roster. Lead back, Peyton Barber averaged just over 14 carries a game with no discernible 4th quarter role other than pass blocking—a skill he’s remarkably efficient in executing. Defensive backs and linebackers should enter the backfield at their own risk as the “dead cockroach” will await them. Because this shows up on tape, don’t be surprised if Barber plays a prominent role in pass-pro and short yardage even if he’s unseated as the lead dog on the sled team. Barber amassed only 934 total yards in 2018, however, his yards after contact, which was early and often, is one of the best in the league. It is noted that Jason Licht and Bruce Arians drafted no running backs among their eight picks. They perk up when asked about Barber. There are no free rides with this regime, but it’s clear that Coach Harold Goodwin and Coach Todd McNair like what they see in Barber.
Video Credit: Justin Camp
The running back that had the most disappointing season in 2018 was the former USC collegiate star, Ronald Jones II. Jones had 1,737 yards from scrimmage his Junior season and 20 TDs. What’s telling is he only had 14 receptions in Tee Martin’s offense in 2017. It’s just something that wasn’t emphasized that he has to get accustomed to at the NFL level. Our run-blocking lack of effort did nothing for Jones II. While fans were saying, “Show me something, Ronald”, he did. How to get mauled by Chicago Bear, Bilal Nichols five yards deep in the backfield as Nichols waltzed calmly through the ‘A-Gap’. Jones II had little chance as he was contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage on more than half his carries. It wasn’t a good situation for a vet, much less a 21-year old rookie back and his body language says he cared about as much as the staff that was too busy being fired to help him. He’s a visibly explosive athlete with one-step-full-speed ability reminiscent of Marshall Faulk. Talent does not always translate to success, but it’s evident the coaching staff believes in Jones II and they are here to teach football.
The Bucs have returning talent in the 2nd year back Shaun Wilson, the former Duke Blue Devil. He showed flashes of brilliance but is a bit of a violent runner for his slight frame. He’s returning from shoulder surgery and will likely be as dynamic as prior to the surgery. He sticks out at practice, but he may have to adjust his style as his durability could derail his career. And the Bucs have signed Undrafted Free Agent, Bruce Anderson of North Dakota State as well. He’s an intriguing prospect and has a really complete skill set. He has quickness and is a natural gatherer of the football in the passing game. His film is consistent, i.e., competitive, tough and possessing superb balance on a 5’11’’, 210-pound frame. He’s a local product from Lithia, FL. He’s productive, accounting for 3,344 yards with the Bisons and 31 TDs during his collegiate career. He averaged an eye-popping 7.5 yards per carry in 2018. Like most prospects, there are things to work on, but it would not be a surprise if he’s on the 53-man roster come September.
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Licht and Arians also signed former Arizona Cardinal veteran and Clemson Tiger, Andre Ellington. Ellington is 30 and was out of football in 2018, but was a reliable 2nd banana during Arians’ tenure in Arizona. He’s put up over 3,000+ yards and 151 receptions during his career and knows the league. He’ll face stiff competition to make the roster as will former Wisconsin Badger, Dare Ogunbowale who has bounced around the league the last couple of years but could get a serious special teams look.
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The talent is there and it’ll come down to scheme, commitment and actually possessing the football. If the Bucs have 35 turnovers again, our would be likely contributors, Peyton Barber, Ronald Jones II, Shaun Wilson, and Bruce Anderson can be eliminated. Developing our offensive linemen ambidextrously to take advantage in man or zone scheme opponent-dependent along with ball security could have the Buccaneers running forward in 2019. We’ve been running back for years.