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Which Rookies Have Improved the Most & How the Bucs Run Game Will Shake Out | Carmen Catches Up

The week leading up to the final preseason game has given a clearer picture on what the final roster will look like and how the Bucs will utilize their stable of running backs. 


It was the last week of practice for the 2021 preseason and therefore the last chance for some young and on-the-bubble players to make an impression at AdventHealth Training Center. They'll have another opportunity this Saturday in Houston, where the starters will get the first half of work before yielding to the second and third teams to give guys a chance to shine.

-Inside linebacker Grant Stuard stuck out this week in practice, according to Head Coach Bruce Arians, making him not so 'irrelevant' at all.

"I think Grant Stuard has had a good week of practice," Arians said Wednesday. "It's hard because we're practicing the starters so much this week. I know what the top 35 guys can do. That fourth quarter will be very important in this game for some other guys to show that they have improved. A lot of guys were running Houston stuff this week because it's a normal game week. But it's hard to say who got much better this week because it wasn't really a training camp week."

The Bucs switched into full game-plan mode to get ready for the Texans. Gone was the structure of training camp, where you'd see starters vs. starters. Instead, the first teams on both offense and defense would go against the scout team, meant to mimic the Texans. It made things a little more challenging for the younger players trying to prove themselves, but Stuard knows he can still make an impact in other phases of the game.

"I just have to show that I can be a dominant special teams player, that I can take coaching and do the technique that the coaches ask me to do instead of going out there and doing my own thing," he said. "Just show that I can dominate out there in that area of the game that I don't think I've really shown yet. I had a lot more reps, especially in special teams this game, so just capitalizing there and showing him like, 'Hey, I'm a dude on special teams, I'm not just a guy, I'm a dude.' I feel like if I show that then I'll have a good chance."

Also, 'I'm not just a guy, I'm a dude' is a fantastic quote.

-Another rookie has been impressing in camp and it might be partially thanks to the veteran players around him bringing him along. That's what wide receivers coach Kevin Garver has noticed with Jaelon Darden, anyway.

"Really from all of the guys and all the vets in my room - Chris [Godwin], Mike, A.B. (Antonio Brown). I think they do a great job of bringing the energy in their own way," said Garver. "You're not going to hear Chris –he's not going to talk. He's quiet, you guys have been around him. Just the way he practices and goes about his business, the way he makes a catch – it energizes people. You might hear A.B. a little bit more, but that's the way he's going to energize you. Definitely all of those guys, I commend them. I think they've done a phenomenal job in our room with really helping the younger guys. Helping Jaelon [Darden] and some of those other younger guys that maybe haven't played as much. They've done a really good job with them."

Darden agrees.

"Very encouraging," he said of his teammates. "Like I said, I'm still learning. I'm in the learning process, so I'm learning from everybody – CG (Chris Godwin), Mike [Evans], A.B. (Antonio Brown) – I'm learning every day. There's something new I am learning every day, so I more so say it's a learning experience for me being able to get out there and go through trial and error and learn, 'Oh, I'm not supposed to be here because of this coverage,' or things of that nature. There are just small things that I'm still learning that I'm just really appreciative of."

-Meanwhile, while the receivers all learn to split their touches, so will the running backs. In 2020, the Bucs deployed a, sort of, running-back-by-committee approach, utilizing Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette somewhat interchangeably. This year will likely be similar, especially with the addition of Giovani Bernard. Assistant Head Coach and Run-Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin painted a clearer picture of what the Tampa Bay running backs room could look like this season.

"Every guy brings value to the table," said Goodwin. "Do I want to be the guy that makes the decision on who starts that week or what not? That's B.A.'s (Bruce Arians) job. Those guys are three great backs, so whatever we need, they'll give us all they have. I like them all, personally to be honest with you. I think Gio brings a different element in the third-down package from a screen standpoint and things of that nature, and I think he's a hell of a runner like I said earlier. But the other two are great runners. They can be a little bit better catching the ball at times, as we all know, but they've gotten better throughout camp doing that as well."

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