By Jeff Berlinicke
Buccaneers fans shouldn't take much out of the Bucs' 20-17 overtime win over the Tennessee Titans on Friday. It was sloppy and gave little indication of what the Bucs actually look like at this early point in the season.
Coach Jon Gruden did, however, make things interesting at the running back position and seemed pleasantly surprised. While top draft pick Cadillac Williams was only in for one play and backup Michael Pittman didn't play at all, Derek Watson and Earnest Graham put up impressive numbers as they battle it out for the third spot behind Williams and Pittman. Graham, who led the Bucs in rushing last preseason and didn't suit up for a regular season game until November, carried 10 times for 62 yards, while Watson ran it 14 times for 63 yards. Graham started and played most of the first half, running against a stronger defense.
Graham also ran for a touchdown and caught another.
It's not likely that Gruden will hold onto four halfbacks in the regular season, so the game was pivotal for both. Williams is expected to see a lot of action next Saturday against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Tampa, and Pittman will also likely get some touches. Watson and Graham showed Gruden a lot and may even spark the release of Pittman and some salary cap relief if they continue.
Graham is a great pass blocker and a special teams standout while Watson has more size and power.
"I call Earnest Graham ‘Dodge Ram' and we really wanted to get a look at him,'' Gruden said. "He's a good back and we got to look at him early against some good competition. Derek Watson is a different kind of runner. He's a big, powerful guy with finishing speed. I think if you ask our football team, he would rank as a very good looking prospect. The guy is a different kind of back. We can bring him in for the second half with a fresh motor.''
Beside Graham and Watson, rookie Ian Smart ran 10 times for 35 yards, but is a long shot to make the roster.
NOTES: Williams said he was surprised to not get more action, but there was something terribly wrong. His pants didn't fit. Williams promised he'd get pants a size smaller for the Jaguars next week…Kickers Todd France and Matt Bryant each made a field goal and an extra point, neither missing a kick. Both have been nearly perfect in preseason…OT Jeb Terry suffered an MCL sprain and will miss three weeks. G Sean Mahan sprained his right elbow but will be ready to play next Saturday.
Graham, Watson Impressive in 20-17 Win
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