RB Quandary? Gruden Says There Isn't One

October 14 – Tampa Bay fullback Mike Alstott caught Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden's eye with his 126-yard rushing performance on Sunday. But did Alstott's poignant outing convince his head coach to give him more touches during games?

Tampa Bay fullback Mike Alstott rushed for more yards in the fourth quarter (83) of Sunday's game against Cleveland than he had in the team's previous five games (82). The "The A-Train's" 126-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Browns definitely caught Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden's eye on Sunday.

Alstott had seen limited action in terms of touches before Sunday's game. Alstott has carried the ball 50 times in six games, but nearly half of those came against Cleveland. Alstott has rushed for 208 yards (4.2 avg.) and he's scored four touchdowns this season. His total, combined with the fact that feature tailback Michael Pittman's rushing totals, which include 90 carries for 309 yards (3.4 avg.), have some wondering if Alstott should start to take the bulk of carries on game days. While he was impressed with Alstott's production on Sunday, Gruden said Monday that Pittman would remain the team's primary tailback.

"Mike (Alstott) is our starting fullback," said Gruden. "Mike Pittman is our starting tailback. There are some backfield sets where Mike (Alstott) becomes the tailback. But I'm not going to outline a specific plan at this time. We're going to try to be as creative as we can and utilize both backs and that's the bottom line."

Gruden said there is no running back controversy in Tampa Bay, but he did suggest the team would give "The A-Train" more carries in the future.

"We'd like to see Mike Alstott carry the ball more, particularly if he's carrying the ball the way he did yesterday," said Gruden. "But I'm not going to start a running back controversy. Mike Pittman also had 150 or 160 yards of all-purpose yards yesterday. We're going to use both the backs the best way we can."

The Buccaneers will continue to use both Pittman and Alstott in its rushing attack. Gruden said opposing teams' defenses would play a huge part in terms of which back receives the majority of carries throughout games.

"That has a lot to do with it," Gruden said of defenses dictating who will get the majority of the carries in a game. "Yesterday when we saw a lot of double zone coverage, the best thing for us to do in our opinion was run the football. They were playing two deep and five underneath. Mike Alstott obviously had a lot to do with our success yesterday. We're no different than any other team in this league. Everybody has five eligible players and most of them are pretty good. Distribution of the ball is something we're working on here. We've distributed pretty evenly with Keyshawn (Johnson) and Keenan McCardell, although that's not our primary goal. Our goal is to win. Mike Alstott has done this type of running over the years. He's a guy that we really have to try to find ways to utilize a little bit more."

The majority of Alstott's touches came in the second half against Cleveland and although Pittman's stomach virus caused him to be fatigued in the second half of Sunday's game, Gruden said the team's plan was to run Alstott often against Cleveland's 30th-ranked run defense in the second half.

"That was the plan," said Gruden. "It was something we felt we could lean on late in this game. We went to him earlier because of the style of defense they play. They hadn't played any of their previous opponents like they had played us yesterday. We made some adjustments at halftime and came out in the second half running the football. Fortunately our offensive line blocked well Mike Alstott ran extremely well."

Gruden said it's tough to distribute the ball to everyone in a manner that will make all eligibles happy on offense. But he also said the team would put the ball in the hands of the players they feel give the Buccaneers the best chance of winning games.

"It's part of being a coach in this league," Gruden said of the difficulty of getting each player the ball on offense. "I don't know any offensive coaches or head coaches that don't have the same problem I have. I really don't. Philadelphia has the same problem, I'm sure, that I have. But it's not about the back of people's football cards. It's about winning football games. We're going to do as many things as we can to please as many people along the way as we can. We really are. But it all comes down to winning. That will never change as long as I'm here."


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