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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Brown Shows Potential as Power Back

As deep as the Buccaneers appear to be in the offensive backfield, they might find a way to keep rookie back Dominique Brown if he can provide a power-running element to the attack.

Check out photos from day 7 of OTA practice at One Buccaneer Place.

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Like many college football players, Dominique Brown had draft-day aspirations that turned into a sort of pragmatism as the draft weekend wore on. It is emotionally gratifying to hear your name called from the podium, but practically speaking it can sometimes be preferable for your phone to ring right after the seventh round than during the last run of picks. "Priority free agents," players who likely would have filled up a hypothetical eighth round, usually have multiple team suitors and a chance to choose where their NFL careers began.

That's what happened to former Louisville running back Dominique Brown during the first few days of this past May. A bigger back (6-2, 240) with good speed (4.65 40-yard dash at the Combine), soft hands and the potential to be a between-the-tackles power back, Brown was considered a potential later-round pick. He wasn't picked, however, which meant he got to choose.

And the fact that he chose the Tampa Bay Buccaneers indicates that there is a clear opportunity for a back of his size and skill set. At least, that's the way Brown sees it.

"It's pretty much every player's dream to get drafted, but in my situation, I think the way it happened was for the best," he said after a recent OTA practice at One Buccaneer Place. "I was able to come to Tampa, where I wanted to go."

It's an interesting choice, because the Bucs' running back depth chart is far from barren. Five different running backs logged at least one carry for the team last year, and all five are back in 2015. That group includes a 2012 Pro Bowler in Doug Martin, a 2014 third-round pick in Charles Sims and two other players – Bobby Rainey and Mike James – who have 100-yard games in the NFL under their belts. (The fifth player on that list was fullback Jorvorskie Lane.)

What Brown has more of than most of the Buccaneers' current tailbacks is size. He's the tallest back on the roster and only two fullbacks, Lane and rookie Joey Iosefa, carry more weight. The Buccaneers believed that this year's draft class was deep in big power backs, and the fact that they took Iosefa out of Hawaii in the seventh round is an indication that they wanted to dip into that pool. While Iosefa is listed as a fullback at this point, Brown was the primary tailback for Louisville as a junior in 2013, when he ran 163 times for 825 yards and also caught 24 passes.

"He's a little different than most of what we have, closer to Mike James than anybody else," said Tim Spencer, the Buccaneers' running backs coach. "He's definitely a guy who can work into the backfield. Right now, we're just trying to get him up to NFL speed and quickness. In terms of his knowledge, that's there. He's got a good grasp of what we're trying to do. We haven't put the pads on yet but it doesn't seem like anything's going to faze him."

It is a little bit difficult to judge running backs against each other in practices that disallow contact. Brown laughed about all the "home run" carries on the practice field, breakout runs that go the distance and tend to irritate the defenders who are making shadow tackles. Still, one can see a player's speed, quickness and understanding of the play, and Brown has impressed so far.

"Just being explosive, showing my explosiveness, is important, especially with me being a big back," he said. "You want to show that you can explode through the hole. It's going good. Just to be on the roster, to get a chance to come out here and compete, I think it's going really well."

Spencer agrees, noting how well Brown has taken coaching, worked on his craft and applied it to the field.

"He has improved since he got here," said the coach. "He's a smart football player, he gets it, he understands football. Everything we're doing, he's got a grasp on it. One of the things I wanted to do was get his center of gravity down, get him quicker, get him in NFL-type shape, and he has done that. He's worked at it, and like I said he's a smart guy so he understands what needs to get done, especially with his body."

Fans of Mike Alstott, the best power back in franchise history (and a soon-to-be member of the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium, understand the importance of a low center of gravity for big backs. Alstott's ability to shed tackles and continue forward on second and third efforts had everything to do with his amazing balance low to the ground. The Bucs don't expect Brown to be another Alstott, but if he can show that same type of power running in short-yardage situations, there very well could be a place for him in the offense.

"With the heat, and you know there's going to be a bump or bruise here and there, there's going to be an opportunity," said Spencer, who said Brown has shown no issues with work ethic or desire since arriving in Tampa. "He'll get an opportunity, and it's all about competition. We had about five guys that got a chance to play last year, and we have eight right now, so there's definitely room for him."

Spencer made it clear that he's high on all eight running backs currently on the roster. He'd like to be able to keep all eight in the regular season, but knows he won't be able to. That said, there is some leeway in how the Buccaneers can stack up their skill-position numbers; they could keep an extra back over an extra receiver, for instance, or vice versa. Even with a good number of proven tailbacks on the depth chart in front of him, Brown could do enough to prompt the team to create a spot for him.

And while he's competing with the likes of Rainey and James and Martin for roster space and, at some point, carries, he's also getting a lot of help from those veterans.

"The veteran guys encourage me; that gives me a lot of hope," said Brown. "They stick with me after the meetings to make sure I know the playbook. They know at the running back position, if a guy goes down somebody else will have to step up, so they've been real helpful to me."

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