December 7, 2023

Bucs Life

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The answer at running back: could be right there on the bench?

5 min read

RB Sean Tucker/buccaneers.com

Oh no, not again

Seems like most of my seasons writing about my favorite NFL team; it has involved me lobbying in print for the team to play a running back who is wasting away on the bench. For several years, it was Ronald Jones; now, it seems to be about Sean Tucker. Let me do a little digging on Tucker and see where he comes from and who he has been the prior three years before arriving on Dale Mabry Boulevard.

New York state of mind

As a freshman at Syracuse, he became the team’s starter at running back by the fourth game of a Covid-affected season. In that first up-and-down season, Tucker ran for the third most yards in a season (626) and the second most yards per game (69.9) than any freshman before him with the Orange. He was named the ACC running back of the week twice as well as leading all freshman backs in yards per game in conference. In his breakout Sophomore season, Tucker ran for 1,496 yards. Good for fourth in the nation among FBS backs. He became the first back in school history to reach a thousand yards in eight or fewer games. He also set the record for most 100-yard games in a season (8). Tucker also set the record for consecutive 100-yard games with seven. He became a mid-season AP first-team All-American and was added as a top-four candidate for the Heisman Trophy that same season as well as a candidate for the Maxwell and Doak Walker awards. When he was done, he had become the ACC Running Back of the Week multiple times. Tucker was a first-team All-ACC member and a first-team All-America by the Football Writers Association of America, ESPN, and a second-team AP all-American. I could write more, but you get the picture. Tucker was straight-up money at Syracuse, eclipsing the numbers of former Syracuse players Floyd Little and Larry Csonka. Tucker left the school after his Junior season and was expected to be a first or second-round pick on NFL Draft Day. At the NFL Combine, Tucker was diagnosed with an unrevealed heart problem that scared teams away, and he went undrafted. Tucker became an undrafted free agent, and that is why the Bucs picked him up quickly after the draft, which brings us to this 2023 season.

Grabbing a spot on the final 53-man roster

Tucker found himself a spot on the Bucs in the preseason of this current year. Just before the regular season, Todd Bowles and the team announced that Tucker had moved up into the RB2 slot, sending Ke’Shawn Vaughn tumbling down the depth chart. The day it was announced that Vaughn left practice without permission, disappearing out of disgust, I assume. Somewhere between that announcement day and the first game or two of the season, Tucker fell to the RB3 slot. I haven’t discovered the reason for that fall as yet and probably never will, but it happened.

Dave Canales’s Scheme requires teeth at the RB position

I will say that Todd Bowles should be complimented for identifying and hiring Dave Canales away from the Seahawks. It was an extremely smart move. Canales has already been named to Chicago’s list of candidates for its head coaching position. The Bucs’ new offensive coordinator has a great scheme, which has helped Baker Mayfield, so far in this fairly young season, requires a running game/back that has some teeth. In short, it requires a running back that forces the defense to account for him at all times. A running back that can bust one loose at any time. A running back that makes the play-action a real threat for opposing defenses. So far, the team has exclusively tried to use Rachaad White and Vaughn in that role. Need I say that it isn’t working as well as it is intended to? Those two players, while they are decent running backs, are not the threat that this offensive game plan requires. So, I now ask a very obvious and simple question. Why, in that Sean Tucker is faster and a more powerful back, as well as the only RB rostered that has the skills to be “that guy”, hasn’t been used during games this season? I’m not Bowles or Licht, but I do have a brain. The question of “why?” hasn’t the team taken a few games and given the ball to Tucker, say between 10-20 carries per contest, and find out what they really have in Tucker?” I think that is an extremely relevant question that warrants answering; and soon. Surely, Tucker could do no worse than Vaughn and White have so far. Are there blocking issues or butterfingers in the receiving game? Being that Tucker, at the pre-season’s end, was moved up the depth chart to the RB2 slot, one would figure obvious problems were taken into account at that time and were not issues. So what did Sean Tucker do to lose his RB2 slot back to Vaughn? What’s the hold-up with giving Tucker the rock since the top two are obviously not the answer for the Canales system? Your guess is as good, if not better than mine. It’s a head-scratcher, for sure. Maybe Tucker isn’t the running back I think he is, but it’s not something that happens every season that an undrafted free agent secures a solid place on the roster and is announced that he’s in the rotation for playing time right away. What happened?

In Closing

The season is still relatively young, and there is plenty of time to insert Tucker into the game plan. Judging by the play of Baker Mayfield in this last game against the Lions, it is a move that the team should make quickly if they want their plan of turning his career around to succeed. Opposing defenses need to be pressed into confusion as to what to commit to, defending the run or the pass the closest. This is what makes play action effective as a weapon. The Bucs finished last season ranked 32 in the run game. This season so far, the Bucs are ranked 29th out of 32. They say insanity is defined by doing the same things and expecting different results. You be the judge. Go Bucs!!