Looking back on the historically prolific Buccaneers offense in 2019, it’s hard to find a downside statistically. Well, not that hard. The Buccaneers run game was as close to ineffective as it gets. Ranking almost dead last in every category possible. Individually, Peyton Barber showed flashes in the preseason, but it was the anticipation of rookie Ronald Jones that had fans piqued with excitement. That flame also, died almost before it was able to get started. With a new season for all involved and a brand new coaching staff, it’s time to look at how minicamp is looking for the running back core.
Not too much news out of camp for the perceived leader of the stable, Peyton Barber. He’s going to be the top guy heading in July’s pad practices and deservedly so. While the stat sheet won’t do him any favors, the film might. Barber spent a lot of his 2018 season breaking tackles behind the line of scrimmage. It wasn’t easy to find lanes but when he did, it was a bulldozer of a run. Finding contact instead of avoiding it. And making yards out of it to boot. Barber is going to be looking ahead to improving upon his 2018 campaign of 871 yards with five Touchdowns. He’s also going to have one eye over his should with the guys looking to take his job. It is by no means a lock for Barber at this point.
What can we say about Ronald Jones rookie season that already hasn’t been said? Let’s just skip all of that then, because none of it is good. What can we expect out of him going into 2019? There definitely feels like nowhere to go but up.
According to Jameis Winston, Jones’ has made “drastic improvements” to his game. How much of this is just camp optimism though? We will have to wait and find out. Jones really struggled in the passing game but also never really had help up front in finding lanes to run. According to Football Outsiders, the Bucs under Koetter ranked 25th in Defense Ranked Over Average. Moving on with Coach Arians, people are going to hope he can make a superstar out of Jones’ as he did with his former star running back and current Cardinal David Johnson. That’s a lofty projection and it would be best to temper those expectations.
Andre Ellington / Kerwynn Williams
Bring in the old but also the new. Familiar faces to the Arians regime, Ellington and Williams were most likely brought in for the competition. Coach Arians knows these guys and what they bring to the table so the learning curve for both backs will be small.
Ellington got plenty of goal-line action in during camp this week. He hauled in a nice catch near the goal line and a second effort dive across got him the score. Running back coach Todd McNair was quick to praise him for the play. Looks like the couch didn’t make Ellington rusty one bit. He was a decent back for Arians in Arizona and found his way into the passing game often. In 2014, when he played a full season, he ran for 600 yards but targeted over 60 times as a receiver. I will predict Ellington making the final roster but will be used sparingly for situational plays where he can make a play.
As soon as training camp starts in July, the running back position will be one of the hottest camp battles on the field. Someone in this group has to step up. Otherwise, we will be heavily reliant on the pass game all year and one-dimensional teams are always fighting an uphill battle to win games. Always.