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Bucs training camp: a golden opportunity for running backs not named Doug Martin

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With training camp fully underway, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are preparing for their first preseason game against the Bengals in Cincinnati just 9 days from now. As usual, starters will play only a few series before letting the backups and newcomers show their stuff.

This year’s camp will provide two particular areas of interest on the offensive side of the ball. First will be the unveiling of tight end O.J. Howard, the team’s top draft pick, and newly acquired deep receiving threat DeSean Jackson, who has looked good the first week.

The other area attracting significant attention is the running back position. While former Pro-Bowler Doug Martin is working hard in camp, he will not suit up when the Bucs open the season in Miami on September 10.

Martin will also miss the home opener against Chicago on September 17 and the third game at Minnesota the following Sunday. He is suspended for the first three games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

So who will start? Jacquizz Rodgers will likely take that role with Charles Sims getting carries as a third-down back. Coach Dirk Koetter may wish to get Rodgers and Sims some carries against their opponents’ first unit defenses to prepare them for the season opener.

The Bucs will also look at second-year back Peyton Barber, who had only 55 carries last year. Fans and coaches are waiting to get a look at fifth-round pick Jeremy McNichols from Boise State (which also produced Martin).

All four running backs will see extended action. One of them might make a lasting impression in camp and perhaps even the first three regular season games. While a healthy Martin should be expected to resume his role in the fourth game, there is no guarantee his job will be there.

“It might not,” said Bucs general manager Jason Licht. “We’ve talked to him, and he’s good with it. He goes, ‘I understand.’”

If Rodgers or any of the others step up in a big way, trade talks involving Martin would not be out of the question. The other scenario is Martin coming back, providing the running back position with excellent depth.

And with a passing game now loaded with pass-catching weapons, the Bucs should be scoring a lot of points this year. If the defense can be a middle-of-the-pack unit, this should be a fun team to watch.

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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