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Charlie Garner, the Bucs new running back, has that ‘juice’ Jon Gruden covets; expect Tampa Bay’s offensive mastermind to get the most out of it


RB Charlie Garner had the Bucs at the top of his wish list, which made the feeling mutual

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Charlie Garner on Tuesday and the reaction of Head Coach Jon Gruden, who had previously worked with Garner in Philly and Oakland, was in one respect predictable.

Garner, said Gruden, will give the Bucs 'juice.'

You've heard the term before. That's Gruden's favorite word for his favorite football commodity, that mix of energy, talent and will that drives a player and a team to greatness. Actually, it's pretty easy to understand even without the attempted definition.

And it's pretty clear that Garner has it. Or is it.

When Garner became a free agent by voiding the remainder of his Oakland contract, he immediately moved to the top of the Bucs' wish list because he had more of it than Tampa Bay could find anywhere else.

"That's me, I am juice," said the Bucs' new back, signed as a free agent on Tuesday. "I plan on getting my burst back. I get my burst back, it's going to be on. I hit that hole quick and just give me some downfield blocking."

In 2002, as the Raiders won the AFC and had the league's best offense, Garner nearly hit 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. Oakland's quarterback, Rich Gannon, won the league MVP award that year, and the team's wide receiver duo of Jerry Rice and Tim Brown is headed for a dual Hall of Fame induction. Still, Garner might have been that team's most explosive player.

In fact, according to Gruden and General Manager Bruce Allen, another former Raider who understands Garner's potential impact, he has been one of the league's most dangerous players for years. He was certainly unmatched in terms of available players this spring.

"When you look at Charlie's accomplishments, in total yards from scrimmage, none of the other players he's ranked with are available," said Allen. "They're all signed with teams. If you can get a dominant player like Charlie Garner, you have to make that move."

And if you're Garner, and you can be reunited with Gruden, re-inserted into an offense with a proven ability to maximize its stars, you have to make that move.

"This is my number one option," said Garner as he was introduced in Tampa on Tuesday. "This is my first choice. Seeing as I already had a working relationship with Jon, and then Bruce already had been here, and (Director of Football Operations) Mark (Arteaga), and I could go on and on about the guys that are leaving the West Coast (and) coming back east. It just feels comfortable. It's home for me and that's what I was looking for."

After his career-best 1,903 combined rushing and receiving yards in 2002, Garner suffered through a 2003 season that was depressing in many ways for the Raiders, who finished 4-12. He still averaged 4.6 yards per carry and caught 48 passes, but a lingering knee injury robbed him of some of his, well, juice.

Just a week before signing his new contract in Tampa, Garner had arthroscopic surgery on the knee, coincidentally by one of the Bucs' team physicians. He will be fully recovered quickly; Allen said Garner could participate if the team had a mini-camp in 10 days.

Garner, 32, is eager to show once again what he can do when fully healthy. Over the last five seasons, he has averaged nearly 100 combined rushing and receiving yards per game. He hasn't finished a season without at least one carry of over 30 yards since 1997.

"It hampered me a lot," said Garner of his 2003 knee trouble. "I really didn't have any stability in the knee so I was just out there really fighting every day and trying to gut it out. I think this year I can get back to playing football and just having fun again. I think you'll see a lot of improvement in that."

So just how will Gruden use Garner. In 2001, he gave his new Raider back 211 carries and threw it to him often enough to lead to 72 receptions. The exact specifics of how Garner will be moved around the gridiron…well, that's for opposing D-coordinators to worry about. Suffice it to say that Garner will be used a lot.

"He's comfortable, I think, in any formation and any situation," said Gruden. "He's a guy that we will build a large part of our offense around."

Yes, if you have that juice, you've gotta tap into it. The Buccaneers are supremely confident that Garner can continue to be every bit as exciting as he was for five years on the West Coast.

"He's one of the most dynamic players on a football field," said Allen. "He can do things that very few players have done in this league since he's been in it. We're very confident we're going to get the A-game out of Charlie Garner."

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