The Bucs averaged 114.8 rushing yards per game last season, ranking them in the top-half of the NFL (15th). In contrast, they finished with the 30th-ranked rushing offense in 2011 when they averaged just 91.1 yards per game.
But that isn't where the improvements stopped.
The Bucs also increased their rushing touchdowns from nine in 2011 to 13 in 2012. They had five rushes that went at least 40 yards and 12 rushes that went at least 20 yards last season, compared to just one and seven, respectively, the year before.
Oh, and they cut down on their rushing fumbles by better than 50 percent, coughing it up only three times in 2012 (second fewest) against eight in 2011 (fifth most).
So why the sudden and drastic improvement on the ground, you ask?
Simply put, the talent improved.
Doug Martin burst onto the scene, rushing for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns, including an out-of-this-world performance against the Oakland Raiders in Week 9 when he rushed for 251 yards and four TDs.
Tack on 49 catches for 474 receiving yards and all told, Martin totaled 368 touches, 1,928 total yards of offense and 12 touchdowns.
Not too bad for a rookie.
Put it this way: LeGarrette Blount was the second-leading rusher on the team last season with just 151 yards. Martin, on the other hand, rushed for 125-plus yards in a game five times.
This offseason the Bucs have continued to stockpile capable backs, adding free agent Brian Leonard and drafting University of Miami running back Mike James in the sixth-round.
All of which will make for an exciting training camp come summertime. That said, here is how I see the Bucs' depth chart heading into camp.
1. Doug Martin #22 (5'9", 215 lbs)
Sneaky fast, deceptively agile and a reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield. Martin has the ability to not only run over defensive backs, but he can bounce-off linebackers and spin away from linemen. He rarely goes down on first contact, often fighting through arm tackles. He is very good at pass protection, too.
2. Brian Leonard #30 (6'1", 225 lbs)
A Greg Schiano-coached player from Rutgers, Leonard knows how the coach operates and what is expected out of his backs. A tough, gritty runner capable of thriving in short-yardage situations, Leonard has also dazzled with his athletic ability, including hurdling numerous defenders.
3. Mike James #25 (5'10", 223 lbs)
Much like Leonard, James is a between-the-tackles-type runner, punishing defenders who dare step in his path. A thick lower body and surprisingly fluid hips helps James in short-yardage situations, something the Bucs have notoriously struggled with in seasons past. James lacks top-end speed, but if used correctly, can certainly contribute as a rookie.
4. Michael Smith #34 (5'9", 205 lbs)
Smith made a name for himself last preseason by igniting the Bucs' return game, but failed to see significant playing time at any point during the regular season. Smith has explosive speed and agility, but the emergence of Martin as the primary ball carrier left little room for his services out of the backfield. It should be noted that the Bucs thought highly enough of him to not put him on their practice squad, where he could have been claimed by any of the 31 other teams.
5. Jeff Demps (# unassigned) (5'7", 175 lbs)
Freakishly athletic and arguably one of the fastest players in the NFL, Demps' NFL potential is limited only by his own ambitions to compete as an Olympian. Demps excelled at the University of Florida, rushing for 2,470 yards and 23 touchdowns in four seasons. It's unclear how significant of a role Demps will have with the Bucs at this point, but his home run potential as a returner is undeniable.
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