By the end of the 2013 season, the players in the Buccaneers running backs meeting room resembled a M*A*S*H unit. When Michael Smith went down during training camp with a foot injury it was a sign of things to come, and Jeff Demps (groin) and Doug Martin (shoulder) also were placed on injured reserve by midseason. At the end of the season the two backs at the top of Tampa Bay’s depth chart – Bobby Rainey and Michael Hill – weren’t even on the opening day roster.
One of those injured Buccaneers, 2013 sixth-round draft pick Mike James, is almost ready to return after a broken ankle suffered in Tampa Bay’s first win last season during the nationally-televised Monday night game against the Miami Dolphins. James rushed for 41 yards on five carries (8.2 avg.) on the Bucs’ first drive before sustaining his injury.
James met with the media last week at One Buccaneer Place and deemed himself very close to returning to full health.
“My health is doing good, it’s just a compression wrap,” James said. “Standard protocol. I’ve got a good opportunity to do what I need to do to get back into the swing of things and get acclimated with everything. The healing process is going well. We’re just playing it by ear right now. (I am) very close. No timeline. There’s no time limit in life. You don’t know how things are going to go or how things are going to play out.”
In the first quarter of the Dolphins game, James was tackled in the red zone and quickly jumped back up, but then, walking back to the huddle, James collapsed on the turf.
“I got up and walked on it and walked back to the huddle,” James said. “I was playing with it and I knew something wasn’t right. When we got into the locker room I didn’t even believe it was what it was. We got x-rays and the doc told me and I started laughing. My fiancée and my sister came and they were crying. I said, ‘It’s all right. It’s the game. It’s a tough game. It’s a brutal game. We all know that when we sign up. We take it in stride.’”
While it’s still early in the installation of the new Jeff Tedford offense in Tampa Bay, James and his offensive teammates are excited from the limited amount they have seen.
“It’s complex at times,” James said. “It’s simple at times. I feel like there are going to be some great plays, some great concepts, some great ways to get the ball and great ways to get into the end zone. We’re just getting into it, just getting into the swing of things. I feel like it’s going to be a real great offense.
“Where Coach Tedford was (Cal) and some different concepts. Some of the stuff is basic, and some of the stuff a lot of the guys in the league run, so we’re looking at a lot of the defenses and where they are lining up so we can draw it up on the board the way we need to.”
Part of the Tedford offense will include the running backs being used in the passing game. James feels like that is something that fits his game and skill set.
“The game is evolving into a passing game, and you definitely want to be a back that can catch the ball,” James said. “No matter what offense you’re in, you want to make sure your running back can catch the ball. That’s something I feel like I can do well and will show when the time presents itself.”
James, who before his injury ran for 295 yards on 60 attempts (4.9 avg.), was pleased with what he was able to do before being placed on injured reserve last season.
“The ability to keep the chains moving and no negative plays,” James said. “That’s something I pride myself on. I want to put the offense in the best position to score or win. Personal stats are personal stats, but they’re nothing if you’re not winning. That’s what I’m trying to do – put the offense in a positive mindset, a positive gain.
“You definitely want to be a runner that can create on his own and not only break tackles, but make guys miss. Maybe I’m not able to get out on the field and do those things, but I can visualize and do them in my mind and get mentally prepared.”
When James steps back on the field this summer he will see a number of new offensive linemen staring back at him in the huddle as the Buccaneers have overhauled their line. Gone are tackle Donald Penn, center Jeremy Zuttah and guard Davin Joseph, replaced with Anthony Collins, Evan Dietrich-Smith and Oniel Cousins. James says despite the widespread changes, he wasn’t too surprised with the turnover on the overpaid and underachieving offensive line.
“It didn’t shock me because we all know this game is a business,” James said. “I have to be a running back that is able to create on my own. The line is going to do a great job. When they block, I’ll take whatever they give me, and whatever the defense gives me, and do a great job. I definitely miss those guys, but I love the new guys. It’s a bittersweet thing in this business, but we all know we have to take care of business.”
James, like all of his offensive teammates are eager to get back on the field and redeem their miserable performance that saw Tampa Bay finish with the league’s 32-ranked offense.
“Just like any offense, we move the chains,” James said. “You want to be the guys that get first-and-10s and third-and-1s. On the goal line, you want to be the guy. The running back plays a big role in the offense. As the coaching staff has stated, we’re going to be a run-heavy team so hopefully we have the guys we can lean on to do that.”
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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