Observation Deck: Pity poor Art

Once upon a time Bucs running backs coach Art Valero was spoiled by his wealth of backfield riches. Now, he's just trying to get his point across. As backs keep dropping due to injury, Valero's job is to keep their replacements on task.

Pity poor Art Valero. Earnest Graham is the only one in the meeting room that knows what he's talking about half the time anymore.

The Buccaneers veteran running backs coach entered training camp, as he said Wednesday, "spoiled."

He had Carnell Williams, Michael Pittman, Mike Alstott and Earnest Graham has his top four backs. All four had been in the system at least two seasons and knew exactly what Valero was talking about in every meeting.

"I could say a buzzword and they knew exactly what I was talking about," Valero said.

Now Valero's top four backs are Graham, Michael Bennett, B.J. Askew and Zack Crockett. And that may not even be their preferred order.

Is this the NFL equivalent of walking behind a coach and pulling their pants down around their ankles? Atomic wedgie, maybe?

Valero is one of the most genial coaches you'll ever meet. But even his head spins a bit at the thought of his new backfield.

Alstott was done for the season in August.

Williams was done for the season in October.

Pittman is done until at least November.

So which blocker is he supposed to follow on that stretch play, coach?

"So Earnest is the only one I can give a buzzword to (now)," Valero said. "Everybody else is going, ‘Hmmmm.'"

After acquiring Bennett on Tuesday from Kansas City, the Bucs asked Valero to put in some overtime. By Thursday night, he'll have spent about 12 hours with Bennett teaching him the playbook.

By the way. This is the same playbook that Alstott, Williams, Pittman and Graham have worked with for two years. This is the same playbook Graham called "the hardest one I've seen" in the NFL. I've heard Jon Gruden call plays on the sideline. Learning this offense is about as easy as cracking the German Enigma code from World War II.

And it doesn't help that Bennett isn't a West Coast offense disciple, either.

"He's had so many years in Kansas City where everything was a name," Valero said. "They were in a digital system, where their pass routes were like, ‘999 or 837' instead of calling them out. And they were a name protection team instead of a numbers protection team like we are, which is night and day."

Bennett called Gruden's playbook like "trying to learn Chinese in 48 hours."

Welcome to Tampa Bay, Mike.

But Valero, ever the optimist, found a way to put a spin on his position's situation.

"He (Bennett) gives us another gear, not instead of, but to complement Earnest and B.J. and Zack," Valero said. "Now we're back where we were when he had four guys with four different styles of running. It's like having a great bullpen."

If this were the bullpen, I'd agree. But this is the Bucs' starting rotation for the foreseeable future. It feels more like the Devil Rays than the Indians if you ask me.

And there's no one to call if this rotation doesn't work.


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