A plethora of backs

What a difference from a year ago, when the Bucs had little runningback depth. Last season the Bucs had eight different backs play in least three games. None of those backs played in all sixteen games. Now the Bucs have one of the deeper runningback corps in the league headlined by Carnell Williams and Michael Pittman.

"That's something we're really excited about," Gruden said. "With Charlie Garner standing over here running the way he is, those are three halfbacks that we think a lot of. I think Earnest Graham's a lot better player than people know about because he hasn't had the opportunities. But he's paid his dues here and he's a playmaker. Ian Smart's as quick as hell; he's a guy who can play a little bit, too. And this Derek Watson, he's one good-looking stallion. He's a big, physical load. And ( Mike) Alstott can still run and catch and Jameel Cook's an all-purpose back."

The runningback depth chart was released yesterday and Williams is at the top, followed by Michael Pittman. Derek Watson is third. Expect the depth chart to change dramatically as training camp progresses and Charlie Garner returns from injury rehab.

Williams must prove he can pick up blitzing linebackers before the Bucs hand over starting duties completely to the rookie. Fortunately, Pittman (who is one of the better blocking backs in the NFL), has proven willing to tutor Williams. "Michael's a great blocker, so I'm definitely going to be in his ear about how should I get better and how should I do this and do that," comments Williams, "I'm definitely going to lean on him for support."

Pittman is 29 but in two weeks he hits the unlucky number for a runningback, 30. Popular opinion goes that when runningbacks turn 30 their production starts to go downhill. Sports Illustrated has an interesting article on this, which examines how the excess of runningbacks in the NFL has lowered the demand for backs. This may be part of the reason Pittman has been willing to accept a reduced role in the Bucs offense.

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