Bucs Training Camp Preview — Running Backs

BucsBlitz.com's countdown to training camp continues with a preview of the running backs and fullbacks. Each day BucsBlitz.com will break down a different position leading up to reporting day in Orlando on July 26.


RUNNING BACKS: Cadillac Williams (starter), Michael Pittman, Earnest Graham, Kenneth Darby, Lione Gates.

Injuries, an ineffective line and perhaps his own tentativeness prevented Williams from rushing for 1,000-plus yards for a second straight season. The Buccaneers are confident that with an improved line and better health for Williams that he can reclaim his 2005 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year form.

To that end the Buccaneers have had Williams work out plenty this offseason in his bare feet or socks. The belief is that the direct contact with the ground will allow Williams to build up the muscles that have occasionally hampered him his first two seasons.

The Bucs also believe that Williams will be a more important part of the passing game. In the West Coast offense the back must be able to catch out of the backfield. Williams actually improved by 10 receptions from 2005 to 2006, so that's encouraging.

Scout still agree that he's a patient runner who looks for the cut-back lane and has above-average speed. But they also agree that the key to Williams' progress is his health.

Pittman is a perfect complement to Williams in that he's built a bit leaner, is a better receiver and is more punishing at the point of attack. He can start in a pinch and seems completely OK with being Williams' backup. He's been the third-down back the past two seasons and that won't change until Williams catches passes consistently and breaks them for bigger gains.

Graham is a competent No. 3 back with enough speed and field vision to be a serviceable player a few downs a game. But at 5-foot-9, he'd probably break down over the course of a season. His value is on special teams, and Graham is a big part of just about every unit.

Darby, a seventh-round pick, might be a steal. Scouts forgot about him last season when he missed time due to a death in the family. But he had back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons at Alabama in 2004-05, and he's a solid pass catcher.

Gates' off-the-field trouble — he was charged with hitting a pregnant woman in the face and pushing her into a wall during an argument earlier this year — may preclude him from being anything more than camp fodder.

Postins' prediction: Williams, Pittman, Graham, Darby (practice squad).

FULLBACKS: Mike Alstott (starter), B.J. Askew, Byron Storer.

Alstott is the unquestioned starter. Blocking isn't his best attribute, according to most scouts — they consider him an angle blocker. But he gets the job done. He's better with the football in his hands, either ekeing out a short gain on third down or catching a swing pass out of the backfield. His best days are behind him, but as his 56-yard game against Cleveland showed last year, there's still life in the legs.

Askew is more of a blocking fullback. He rarely handles the football. But he has a pedigree. He opened holes for Curtis Martin for three years, including Martin's NFL rushing title season in 2004. Askew may get on the field when it's likely the Bucs will run. Plus, Askew is signed through 2008, in case Alstott finally retires after this season.

Storer, at 219 pounds, is the smallest fullback on the roster. One has to wonder if the Buccaneers are just confused about his position. The Bucs only carry two fullbacks. He's a practice squad candidate.

Postins' prediction: Alstott, Askew.

Click here to see the other stories in the series so far:

Special teams

Defensive tackle

Defensive end

Linebacker

Secondary

Tight ends

Offensive line

Wide receivers


Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. Included among his more than two dozen writing and editing awards are national awards from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors, and state awards from the Florida Press Club and the Florida Sports Writers Association, for his coverage of the Buccaneers since 2004.


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