Martin was a highly-touted back in Boise State's explosive offense, playing on bright blue turf out West. James was a do-everything role player at the University of Miami, finishing his college career with good stats and a great reputation as a team player. Rainey piled up massive stats at Western Kentucky but lacked the big-conference profile of the other two.
What do these three NFL running backs have in common? Well, most obviously, they're all members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013. More specifically, however, they are all running backs who have recorded a game this year with at least 140 rushing yards…as a member of the Buccaneers. To put that in perspective, the other 31 teams in the NFL have combined to produce 15 140 -yard individual rushing games this season, by 12 different running backs.
Martin (144 yards vs. New Orleans in Week Two), James (158 yards vs. Seattle in Week Nine) and Rainey (163 yards vs. Atlanta in Week 11) are the first trio of backs in the nearly four-decade history of the Buccaneers to each have a 100-yard rushing game in the same season. All three deserve praise and all three would look quite good in Tampa Bay's backfield next weekend, but unfortunately only Rainey is available. Or perhaps the Buccaneers should say, fortunately Rainey is available.
The Buccaneers claimed the second-year back off waivers from Cleveland on October 21 after Martin suffered a shoulder injury in the first Bucs-Falcons game of the year. Martin eventually landed on injured reserve, and Rainey provided depth behind James, who took over as the starter and immediately shined. Then James suffered a fractured ankle on the first drive of last Monday night's win over Miami and the Bucs had to scramble again. After running eight times for 45 yards and a score against the Dolphins, Rainey took over the bulk of the rushing load on Sunday and produced one of the most remarkable games in Buccaneer history. In addition to putting up the ninth-highest single-game rushing total in team annals, Rainey also became the first Tampa Bay player ever to score two rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown in the same game.
That performance, so early in his career, also put Rainey's name alongside one of the greats.
Buccaneers defensive tackle
.@TBBuccaneers Bobby Rainey is 1st since Edgerrin James w/ a 150 rush yd, 2 rush TD, 1 rec TD performance in 1st 10 games to start career— Randall Liu (@RLiuNFL) November 17, 2013
“He shook me so bad one time in practice, I was like, 'Man if they ever put him in the game, he’s going to kill it.' It hurt. I tried to keep up with him. I was like 'Man, that’s not a scout team running back.' I told those guys if he ever gets in a game I think he’s going to play well and he just plays hard. He’s shorter than Doug, he’s just a tiny guy, he’s real stout and strong and he just runs hard.”
Another thing that Rainey, Martin and James have in common is that they're playing behind a Buccaneers offensive line that, especially in the last three weeks, has been dominant at the point of attack. When James had his big day in Seattle several weeks ago, the Buccaneers did not once have a running back stopped behind the line of scrimmage. The blocking was excellent again on Sunday, and Rainey was quick to make that point after the game.
“All the credit goes to the offensive line," he said. "They did a great job of blocking and I did a decent job of finding the hole, finding the lanes, and getting it.”
Rainey may downplay his own role in the Bucs' 186-yard rushing game on Sunday – their third straight game with 140 or more yards on the ground – but the tape will say otherwise. Generously listed at 5-8 and 205 pounds, Rainey runs low to the ground and makes very sudden cuts, sometimes in rapid succession. The front line often gave him a good hole to start his runs, but his own moves upon reaching the next level are what put his stats into such rare territory on Sunday.
“My idol is Barry Sanders," said Rainey. "I like all the small running backs, Warrick Dunn, all those type of guys. And the one we just played [Atlanta running back Jacquizz Rodgers], he’s small, too. He told me, ‘We've got to represent for the short guys.’ And I told him, ‘Most definitely – we've got to stick together.’
“Like I said, I’m small and I don’t like to take a lot of hits, so I try to avoid hits. Everybody that stays in the league long enough will look at other guys that are dependable – Warrick Dunn, those guys like that. And I know that Warrick Dunn never took a lot of big hits.”
Obviously, nobody is yet trying to put Rainey into the same category as Dunn, Sanders or James just yet. Moreover, there will be a very crowded backfield in Tampa Bay's training camp next year and there are no guaranteed roles for Rainey beyond the next six games on the schedule. But, to be clear, Rainey's breakout game on Sunday was no fluke, according to those who work with him.
"It’s hard when you’re a rookie [entering the NFL] and you come from a smaller school," said Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano. "What makes somebody say, ‘Oh, he’s the guy?' I think [it's] when preparation meets opportunity. Guys say, ‘Oh, he’s lucky.’ Well he’s not lucky. This guy worked his tail off and he trained and did all the right things and here comes his chance and he’s ready to do it. Good for us, good for him.”