Mike James will likely have better days as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. Somewhere along the line he'll crack 100 rushing yards or score a pair of touchdowns or, more importantly, make the big play that leads his team to victory.
However, James may not have too many more important days as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer than the one he turned in on Friday at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, at least for his own personal aspirations.
Here in mid-August, James is striving first and foremost to make the Buccaneers' 53-man regular-season roster in September. While that may seem like a very good bet at this point, there haven't been too many sixth-round draft picks who are roster locks. Good outings in August, whether they be an outstanding day on the practice field or a star turn under the preseason game lights, can make the difference between playing on Sundays and being a practice squad candidate.
James had one of those days on Friday. His Buccaneers dropped a 25-21 decision to the home-team New England Patriots but, as usual, the details are more important than the final score in a preseason affair. For James, these were the details: 15 carries for 81 yards (5.4 yards per carry), three catches for 23 yards and, for good measure, a perfectly-executed two-point conversion run.
That's the kind of outing that catches the eyes of the coaching staff, and the Bucs' crew is looking for the right backup to starting tailback Doug Martin. Depending upon the talents and versatility of that player, the role might involve third-down pass-catching and pass-blocking, occasional first and second-down snaps and maybe even some lead blocking. James, who has been compared to former Buccaneer fan favorite Earnest Graham for his wide range of talents and do-anything attitude, looks like a possible fit for that type of role. He seemed to display as much on Friday night, though he wasn't rushing to take any personal credit.
"It was a solid game," said James. "I was where I needed to be at times, but there are still some things to grow from. We'll watch it on tape. It was a great opportunity to grow as an offense, not only myself but as a team. There are some things I'll have to grow from, some things I did well, so I'm just happy to be here and happy to have an opportunity.
"The guys up front, the tight ends and offensive line, did a great job of moving guys around. I wouldn't be able to run the ball like I could, or like I would, without those guys. Up front is where it starts, and those guys worked hard, they did a lot of great things and they opened up some holes."
The Bucs' offense took a while to get untracked on Friday night, and it didn't help when Martin came out of the game after taking a knee to the helmet just a few snaps into the action. James came on as his replacement on the Bucs' second drive and immediately ripped off an 11-yard run. He split time with veteran back Peyton Hillis for the rest of the first half but then got an extended dose of playing time in the second half. In the fourth quarter, he watched as Hillis powered a 79-yard touchdown drive, then came on to run in the two-point conversion that pulled the Bucs within seven points with 12 minutes to play.
On that particular play, James took a handoff and cut to the right before diving over right guard into the end zone. It was a quick and decisive play, and just what the Buccaneers needed.
"That was just how I run," said James. "The line blocked it out well, I got what I needed to get and it put us in good position to come back and try to win."
The Bucs would score one more time, a Derek Dimke field goal, but they wouldn't quite close the gap. Victory was an important goal on Friday night, but it wasn't the only one, or even necessarily the most important one. There were mistakes and problems that will need to be rectified, but there was also a lot to build on, including James' performance and the team's overall approach to the game.
"Coach always stresses being physical and being a team that out-hits guys," said James. "That's what we try to do as a team, we try to go out and play hard and hit people as hard as we can and play ball."