The first offensive play of the Bucs’ 2019 preaseason was a handoff from quarterback Jameis Winston to running back Peyton Barber that went for three yards. Winston then went to the air for an 11-yard completion to wide receiver Breshad Perriman.
Instead of sticking with the receivers, Winston again went back to Barber on the next play, who this time caught a short pass for four yards. He went to Barber again on the ground on the next play, resulting in an eight-yard run. Then, he tried for the deep ball to Perriman, which fell incomplete. Back and forth this went in what was a perfectly balanced drive, though it ultimately resulted in nine-yard screen pass to wide receiver Chris Godwin.
It wasn’t just Barber shouldering the ground load, though. The Bucs wasted no time in getting 2018 second-round pick Ronald Jones involved in the running (and passing) game. Jones’ first touch on offense was on a five-yard screen pass. His next was a seven-yard run up the middle followed by a six-yard run.
Also, in a surprise move, Jones was the Bucs’ first kick returner after winning the toss and electing to receive at the start of the game. Jones fielded a 19-yard return to set up the aforementioned drive.
From there, it was mostly the reserves that took over and running back Dare Ogunbowale was the most productive of the group, diving for one ten-yard touchdown towards the end of the third quarter and after a couple tries, punching in the potential game-tying touchdown at the very end of the game.
Despite scoring two rushing touchdowns, what actually impressed Arians more than anything was Ogunbowale’s contribution in pass protection.
“Dare I thought looked outstanding,” Arians said. “Especially on his pass blocking.”
The reason for going into detail on each of these backs is to drive home how comfortable the Bucs are with their running back room because of how multi-faceted it is. Each player has his strengths that complement the others.
“That’s why I’ve been high on our backs,” Arians said. “Because Peyton [Barber] is a pounding guy that has a great jump cut, that’s getting six, getting five. Then RoJo [Ronald Jones] can hit the home run, but he can also pound it in there. He made some really good cutbacks and his explosiveness shows up. Dare [Ogunbowale] pass protects in nickel back, [Andre] Ellington pass receiver, nickelback-type guy.
“I like our room, I really do.”
Are any of them all-around complete backs on their own? Maybe not quite. But a tandem of running backs like Barber and Jones, one for the hard-fought yards and another for the home runs, not only keeps defenses on their toes, it keeps each back fresh. They don’t have to take a beating by being in on every play. Every down may not be a rushing down, but as you can tell from what stuck out to Arians about Ogunbowale, taking the ball and running with it isn’t a running back’s only job.
“You should have a fresh guy all the time, that’s the nice thing about it,” Arians said about having the tandem of Barber and Jones, especially. “Even if someone else carves out the third-down role, which both of those are capable of staying in there, they need them fresher.”
Having multiple, more than capable running backs also allows a lot of flexibility. You don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket and if one is playing better than the other that week – you simply stick with that guy. Veteran or young player - doesn’t matter. While Barber may be listed as first on the depth chart, that’s not to say there won’t come a time where Jones gets more touches or starts the game instead. There’s a reason they call football the ultimate team sport, right?
“If [Jones] gets the hot hand, we’re going to go with the hot hand,” Arians said. “They’re both going to get their opportunities. You got a guy that has a hot hand, you just have to keep feeding him and everybody check their ego at the door because it’s all about rushing the football, pass protection, doing all those things – the whole thing.”
View photos from Tampa Bay's Week 1 Preseason matchup against Pittsburgh.