The Buccaneers’ running game is coming off two consecutive disappointing seasons in which it finished in the bottom third of the league.
The Buccaneers finished 29th in the league last season, averaging 95.2 yards per game. Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and Arizona were the only teams to average less running yards per game than the Bucs.
Peyton Barber was handed the job in training camp in 2018 and underperformed as he ran for just 871 yards and averaged 3.7 yards a carry. Barber did play in all 16 games.
After the initial evaluation of the players on the roster, Arians was most impressed with Peyton Barber when asked who impressed him the most from the 2018 season, “I can honestly say Peyton Barber,” said Arians. “I’ve watched this guy and I [say], ‘Woo!’ He’s so subtle in some of the things he does for a big man.”
The blame lies not solely on Barber, but the offensive line also shares some responsibility for the poor showing in the run game as the O-line was one of the worst in the NFL last season.
The same two feature backs, Barber and Ronald Jones, are back with the addition of Andre Ellington; the Bucs did absolutely nothing to improve the offensive line and that will come back to haunt them as the season goes along.
Ronald Jones, who had one of the worst rookie seasons for a second-round draft pick in recent memory, will have to show much improvement this season if the Buccaneers have any hopes of improving their running game.
Jones had a lot of difficulty adjusting to the NFL game as a rookie last season and didn’t even see his first action until Week 4 against Chicago.
Jones fished the season with 44 yards rushing and 29 of those yards came in the 48-10 loss at Chicago.
Bruce Arians thinks that Jones has made the adjustment to the NFL game and is ready to have a breakout sophomore season as he had praise for Jones during mini-camp.
Jason Licht is also expecting a big season from Jones. “I think Ronald needs a confidence boost and I think he’s going to get that. I know he’s going to get that. [Running backs coach] Todd McNair is extremely excited about working with him, and Bruce Arians is as well, as well as Byron and our offensive line coaches. Nobody has given up on Ronald Jones. I expect Ronald Jones to have a big jump this year.”
Andre Ellington was a free agent signing who agreed to a one-year deal. Ellington had just 55 yards rushing but caught 39 passes out of the backfield for 369 yards in 2017.
The Bucs parted ways with Jacquizz Rodgers after last season, and they did not have the pass catching threat out of the backfield last years. Ellington should fill that void this season.
A longshot to make the team but would love to see hang around is Bruce Anderson, the free agent running back from North Dakota State. The Bucs cut running back Shaun Wilson this week, so that opens the door a bit wider for Anderson to make this team.
The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Anderson averaged six yards per carry in his career at North Dakota State with 24 touchdowns.
During OTAs and minicamp, Anderson ran with authority and consistently was able to get outside for good yardage. It’s unclear if Anderson can make this team out of training camp, but it would be great to see him stick around on the practice squad.
If Jameis Winston is to have the kind of year that everyone is expecting under Arians, the running game will have to be much improved in 2019.