Flynn's Focus

August 27 – Do you trust Tampa Bay rookie running back Travis Stephens to hold onto the football? The Bucs' 2002 fourth-round draft pick has dropped several passes and fumbled three times in the team's first three preseason games. He was Jon Gruden's second draft pick ever as Bucs' head coach, but will Stephens' inability to hold onto the ball force Tampa Bay to part ways with him in the final wave of roster cuts? We explore the possibility in this installment of Flynn's Focus.

Flynn's Focus usually appears weekly on Pewter Report.com
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie running back Travis Stephens has fumbled three times in three preseason games. The former Tennessee Volunteer, who was no stranger to fumbles in college, has dropped some easy catches, too. Yes, it's only preseason, but do the Buccaneers still trust Stephens to hold onto the football?

They may not say it in so many words publicly, but the Buccaneers have serious issues with Stephens' inability to hold onto the ball, and if the team can't trust him with the ball, why would they keep him on the 53-man roster?

When Stephens holds onto the ball, he's been a very productive weapon on offense. He's Tampa Bay's leading rusher through three preseason games. Stephens has carried the ball 31 times for 147 yards (4.7 avg.) and he's hauled in six passes for 50 yards. But he's dropped several passes and his three fumbles have overshadowed his impressive numbers.

"A young halfback trying to make his mark in this league cannot fumble the ball," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said about Stephens. "We lost three fumbles in three preseason games."

What makes things even more interesting is the fact that RB Michael Pittman's backup – Aaron Stecker – has been very impressive throughout preseason. Stecker has rushed 12 times for 72 yards (6.0 avg.) and he's caught four passes for 33 yards. While he hasn't rushed for as many yards as Stephens has, Stecker has yet to put the ball on the ground.

When Tampa Bay started training camp, we assumed the team likely would keep five backs on its 53-man roster (Pittman, Alstott, Stecker, Stephens, Jameel Cook). But with Stecker's impressive outing throughout training camp and preseason, and Stephens' inability to consistently catch and hold onto the ball, is there a possibility the Buccaneers could opt to keep four backs and use the extra roster spot to add depth to another position, like wide receiver?

Gruden would like to use Stephens as a situational-type back, but what situations can the Buccaneers use him in if they can't trust him to secure the football?

Are Stephens' days in Tampa numbered? Probably not.Tampa Bay has a fourth-round draft selection invested in Stephens and they like his upside. The fact that Stecker is in the final year of his contract could factor into the decision to keep or part ways with Stephens, too. Since they signed him to a four-year contract, the Bucs could choose to keep Stephens on the sideline for his entire rookie campaign while he observes, learns and works on his ball-handling skills. But if Stephens fumbles against Houston, one has to wonder if it could and/or should be his last as a Buccaneer.

"Although he (Stephens) has fumbled the ball, he has carried 31 times and has caught several balls," said Gruden. "I think he is learning that you know that these guys get to you quick. He's got to protect that ball better. So if you're listening, Travis, let's get that right and we will. That guy has flash ability and quickness. He's tough and he wants to get better, and he will. Hopefully, he has gotten that out of his system."


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