Observation Deck: Crockett's impact

Tampa Bay's signing of Zack Crockett may not be scintillating, but it's also the path of least resistance in finding a back that can understand Jon Gruden's complicated offensive system quickly. How will Crockett's presence impact the running game? I take a look at Crockett's career and how he might be used.

Tampa Bay's signing of Zack Crockett may not be scintillating, but it's also the path of least resistance in finding a back that can understand Jon Gruden's complicated offensive system quickly. How will Crockett's presence impact the running game? I take a look at Crockett's career and how he might be used.

Earnest Graham said it best on Monday — Jon Gruden's system is a bear, even for a running back.

There's so much motion, so much shifting and so much terminology that Graham admitted it took him a couple of years to completely understand what went on every snap. And this from someone who you would assume has plenty of time to study given his limited use on offense.

So of all the running backs the Buccaneers worked out the past seven days — and there were seven of them — Zack Crockett makes the most sense.

He played for Gruden in Oakland for three years (1999-01). One would assume that, outside of the backs in the Buccaneers organization, there is no back available that understands Gruden's offense better than Crockett.

"If you haven't been a part of it, it's complex," Crockett said on Wednesday. "But since I've been a part of it pretty much all my career, it's pretty simple to me."

Crockett owes Gruden a bit of thanks for properly using him when other teams hadn't. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound power back wasn't known for much before the Raiders acquired him in 1999. The former Florida State back spent five years in Indianapolis and Jacksonville. His career high during that time was 300 yards in 1997 with the Colts. He scored just one touchdown.

He might have been lost in the shuffle of the NFL waiver wire if Gruden hadn't used him to his full potential. Crockett's yearly rushing yards never approached his career high. But his bulk made him the perfect short-yardage and goal line back for Gruden's attack in Oakland.

"From day one he always fired me up," Crockett said.

In a five-year period (1999-03) Crockett scored 32 touchdowns on just 233 carries. He scored a touchdown for every 7.2 carries. Your standard starting running back probably carries the ball 18-20 times a game. Crockett's average would come to two scores a game. That would be a scoring frequency on par with some of the best backs in football — if Crockett were a starter.

But his role in Oakland was simple — get first downs and get touchdowns in short-yardage situations. Crockett has just 1,701 career yards.

Does this sound familiar? Yep. That was Mike Alstott's role before a neck injury ended his season in early August.

That's why Crockett — who was released by Oakland after the preseason — is so excited to be in Tampa Bay.

"It's good when you come to a system that you've been a part of been successful in," Crockett said. "I just need to get some repetitions now, I feel great about things I'm excited about it and I'm ready to go."

Gruden agreed with that assessment, saying the unknown of the rest of this season made Crockett a wiser choice than, say, Kevan Barlow, who worked out with the Bucs on Tuesday and rushed for more than 1,000 yards for San Francisco in 2003.

"We play Sunday, so if he had no background it would have been awfully difficult to get him ready to play," Gruden said. "Sometimes you have to account, even though you don't want to, for the possibility of someone getting ill the night before a game, somebody possibly turning an ankle on Friday or Thursday. "There are not a lot of people out there that have the background that this guy has.

Gruden said the Bucs will use Crockett as a running back, fullback and special teamer. Crockett's greatest value will be at the goal line, a role he's likely to get first crack at if the Bucs get inside the 5-yard line this weekend. Carnell Williams' season-ending injury left the Buccaneers without a back that could truly be considered a goal-line back. Crockett will fill that role most ably. Given that the Bucs are reaching the red zone more frequently this season, Crockett's presence will be an asset.

His career numbers suggest that he's not much of a pass-catcher, and his yards-per-carry average (3.3 for his career, better than 4.0 just once in his 13-year career) suggest he's not a back that will carry the ball 15-20 times. That will be Earnest Graham's job now.

The expectations for Crockett should not be high. He's peace of mind. Insurance, if you will, in case Graham or Kenneth Darby are hurt or underperform. He's a signing in the same vein of Jeremiah Trotter, except Crockett is going to play. Because Crockett's role will be limited, he can play this weekend using a smaller package of plays and make an impact immediately.

I would estimate that if the Bucs are able to get 150 yards and, more importantly, 4-to-7 touchdowns out of Crockett, the minimum salary they've likely invested in him will be worth it.


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 and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.


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