NFC South: Charles Sims

TAMPA, Fla. -- Doug Martin knows the critics are out there.

They say he has lost it and he's not the same running back who rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a rookie in 2012. So what does the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' running back say about all that?

[+] EnlargeDoug Martin
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsBucs RB Doug Martin is averaging 2.8 yards per carry, far below his 2012 season average of 4.6.
"I don't say anything," Martin said. "That's something you've got to ignore. That's just outside noise. You've just got to ignore that and keep playing the game and having confidence in my game. It's just something that you've got to brush off."

But Martin hasn't been able to brush off defenders very often this season and that has fueled the critics. Martin is averaging just 2.8 yards a carry and has 193 rushing yards and one touchdown.

Injuries have been a factor. Martin missed two games with a knee injury and three games with an ankle injury.

"You don't want to make excuses, but injuries do kind of slow you down," Martin said.

But Martin is healthy now and his production hasn't picked up. In Sunday's loss to Chicago, Martin had 11 carries for 27 yards. He also was used in a rotation with Charles Sims and Bobby Rainey.

"As a running back you do want a rhythm," Martin said. "But we have Charles, Bobby and myself in the backfield and each guy brings something different to the table."

Coach Lovie Smith has said the run blocking by the offensive line hasn't been as good as he would like. That's a big part of the reason the Bucs rank No. 29 in the league in rushing offense.

But much of the blame from the outside is falling on Martin. From the inside, the belief is Martin still has what it takes to be an elite back.

"I think so," quarterback Josh McCown said. "Everything's been so up and down with injuries and stuff like that. There's been an inconsistency of just time for him. It's not anybody's fault. It's just where it's been. I still absolutely think he's capable of doing those things because it still flashes. I think it's more of us as a whole, as a group, continuing to improve in that area."

Martin said he is every bit as good as he was as a rookie.

"I do believe so," Martin said. "I'm very confident in my ability."

But the only way to silence the critics is to start churning out yards like he did in 2012.
TAMPA, Fla. -- His team is 2-9, but Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith continues to point to the NFC South standings.

He did it again Monday and he can do it again today. With New Orleans losing to Baltimore on Monday night, the Saints and Atlanta are 4-7. Carolina is 3-7-1.

"We're two games out of first place," Smith said Monday afternoon. "We are still in the playoff hunt. So there's no looking at younger players -- it's who gives us our best chance to win, period. So it's pretty easy for us right now. Forget the record right now; everyone in the NFC South is disappointed and has let games get away and feel like they're a pretty good football team -- we're right in the mix of that. So it's full steam ahead for Cincinnati [this week's opponent] for us."

Smith is right. The Bucs still are in the NFC South hunt. They have five games left to play, including contests with New Orleans and Carolina. The Bucs are facing an uphill battle, but the other three NFC South teams are struggling, so anything is possible.

The Bucs should play to win as long as they remain in contention. But Smith already is taking long looks at some younger players. He gave defensive end Jacquies Smith a start Sunday and has been playing rookie running back Charles Sims extensively.

Moves like that aren't geared toward next season. Guys like Smith and Sims are playing a lot because they've shown they give the Bucs the best chance to win now.

Buccaneers collapse in epic fashion

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23

CHICAGO -- A few weeks ago, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith playfully said that his team would make an "epic climb" at some point.

You want epic?

The Bucs delivered an epic collapse Sunday. For a team that has lost in just about every way in a 2-9 start, Sunday's 21-13 loss to the Chicago Bears was different.

[+] EnlargeLovie Smith
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastLovie Smith was in no mood to reminisce about his Bears days after the Bucs' disastrous third quarter led to another loss.
This time, you couldn't see it coming. This time, the Bucs started fast and appeared to be cruising to a second straight win.

What happened? The third quarter happened. After dominating the first half and leading 10-0, the Bucs suddenly crumbled in spectacular fashion. They gave up 21 points in the third quarter, and it was the literal definition of "gave" them up.

It started harmlessly enough. The Bucs received the second-half kickoff and ran three plays before punting. That's when a Chicago offense that had been held to 68 yards in the first half suddenly came to life. The Bears put together a quick touchdown drive to cut the lead to 10-7.

"The plan wasn't to start off the second half that way," Smith said. "And once we got ourselves in the hole a little bit, we needed to regroup right there, and we didn't."

Once the hole opened, it just kept getting wider very quickly.

Quarterback Josh McCown, who had played so well in last Sunday's victory at Washington, suddenly turned into a turnover machine. He held the ball way too long on a scramble that resulted in a sack/fumble by Chicago's David Bass. That gave the Bears the ball at Tampa Bay's 13-yard line. On the next play, Matt Forte ran for a touchdown that put the Bears ahead to stay.

Chicago's onslaught didn't stop there. On Tampa Bay's first play of the next series, McCown threw a pass intended for rookie running back Charles Sims that wound up in the hands of safety Ryan Mundy.

"It was unfortunate," McCown said. "The ball goes off of Chuck's hands and ends up in their [hands]. Those two right there back-to-back hurt us. It's tough, but we've got to do a better job managing it."

Three plays later, Forte scored again. The lightning-quick chain of events in the third quarter decided the game and put the Bucs back to where they were before their victory in Washington.

Smith has been talking about how his team is improving and how he believes the Bucs are ready to turn the corner. And for 30 minutes, it looked like the Bucs were playing exactly the style he likes. They were putting a good rush on quarterback Jay Cutler and moving the ball in the passing game.

"We did it for the first half," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "We have to do it the whole game. We didn't do it enough. We have to be more consistent and do it the entire game."

The Bucs ended the game with four turnovers. They came up with only one takeaway.

"It's tough to win football games when you lose the turnover ratio," Smith said.

The irony is that the Bears won by playing the way they often did when Smith was the coach in Chicago for nine years. But this wasn't a day for reflection.

"I really wasn't into family reunions or anything like that today," Smith said. "I have lifetime friends here. I don't really need a game to see them. We won a lot of games here at Soldier Field. A lot of great memories. But this is a bad memory right now."

Smith's right. His time in Chicago is in the past and no longer matters. His job now is to turn the Bucs around. You can't do that when you're having disastrous quarters.

Four is a crowd in Bucs' backfield

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
TAMPA, Fla. -- For the first time this season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should have a full stable of healthy running backs when they play the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

Doug Martin, who has missed the past three games with an ankle injury, appears to be on schedule to make his return.

"Doug is back this week and that’s a good thing," coach Lovie Smith said Friday. “He looked pretty good in practice."

But Martin’s return means the Bucs face a tough decision on which running backs to activate Sunday.

"Four guys available," Smith said. "It’s pretty hard to dress four running backs. But we like having those decisions. It’s tough in a way, but in a way it’s really not. That’s why practice is so important, and we knew that we should have everybody back this week, so we’ve been paying close attention. We have a plan we feel comfortable with."

In addition to Martin, the Bucs have Bobby Rainey, Mike James and Charles Sims. Rainey has been starting in Martin’s place and he’s a regular on special teams, so he seems likely to be active. Sims has led the team in carries in each of the past two games, and James has carved out a niche as the short-yardage rusher.

Martin also missed two games earlier in the season. With Martin in and out of the lineup and Sims missing the first eight games with an ankle injury, nobody has stepped up and given the Bucs anything close to a feature back. But Smith said that situation will sort itself out.

"To me right now, if you continue to play guys, they’ll tell you all that," Smith said. "Bobby has had his moment. Mike James has kind of moved into his role. Yeah, we would like to see one of our running backs rush for about 200 yards and become the bell cow."

In injury news, linebacker Lavonte David (hamstring) missed his second straight day of practice. Smith said David’s status for Sunday will be a game-time decision.

W2W4: Buccaneers at Redskins

November, 15, 2014
Nov 15
Five things to watch in Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins:

Mike Evans: The rookie receiver has been the closest thing the Bucs have had to a bright spot, particularly in the last few weeks. Evans has had 100 receiving yards and at least one touchdown in each of his last two games. If he can do it a third time, he’ll become the first rookie receiver since Randy Moss in 1998 to have three straight games with 100 receiving yards and at least one touchdown.

Charles Sims: Look for more action for the rookie running back, who made his debut last week. He’s not going to get 25 carries, but he will get a fair share. In last week’s loss to Atlanta, the Bucs ran the ball on 38 percent of the snaps Sims was in the game. They only ran 14 percent of the time when Bobby Rainey was in the game. You can look for a similar ratio Sunday.

DeSean Jackson vs. Tampa Bay’s secondary: This matchup doesn’t look favorable for the Bucs, who have had some problems in the secondary. Jackson could cause nightmares. He has nine catches of 40 yards or more this season. No one else in the NFL has more than five.

Robert Griffin III: After a stellar rookie season, the Washington quarterback has struggled. His record as a starting quarterback since his rookie year is 4-12. But Griffin is still dangerous as a runner and a passer and Tampa Bay’s struggling defense can’t afford to take him lightly.

Josh McCown: The Tampa Bay quarterback returned last week after missing five games with a thumb injury. McCown looked sharper than he did in the first three weeks of the season. The passing game got into a rhythm for one of the few times this season. But McCown faces a big challenge against a Washington defense that’s ranked No. 10 in the league.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Buccaneers running back Doug Martin will miss his third straight game due to an ankle injury, coach Lovie Smith said Friday.

 Martin practiced on a limited basis the past two days, but Smith said he was not medically cleared to play in Sunday’s game at Washington.

Once upon a time, going without Martin would have been a big deal for the Bucs. But Martin’s star has faded this season. Even when healthy, he’s averaged just 2.9 yards per carry.

Bobby Rainey has been starting in Martin’s place, but the Bucs have plenty of other depth at running back and are likely to use three of them.

Rookie Charles Sims made his debut last week after missing the first half of the season with an ankle injury. The coaching staff is particularly high on Sims, who was drafted in the third round. The team also has Mike James as a short-yardage back and special-teams player.
TAMPA, Fla. – Back in the offseason, especially after they drafted Charles Sims, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers repeatedly said Doug Martin still was their “bell-cow’’ running back.

It has become apparent throughout the season that’s no longer the case. But, on Wednesday, quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo actually came out and said the Bucs don’t have a bell-cow runner, mostly because they don’t need one.

“I don’t think we need to say that,’’ Arroyo said. “There’s no need for that. You’ve got three good ones and you’ve got guys in the third-and-one situation that can carry the flag and you’ve got guys that can carry it in certain situations. That’s a great thing to have. I think a lot of teams wish they had that kind of flexibility. We have some options and they’re all guys we’re really excited about.’’

Martin’s season has been star-crossed. He has been injured and has missed four games, including the last two. Even when healthy, Martin hasn’t been very productive. He has 58 carries for 166 yards for a 2.9 average.

Backup Bobby Rainey has been more productive with 87 carries for 388 yards. Mike James has established himself as the short-yardage back.

Then, there’s Sims, on whom the Bucs used a third-round draft pick. The team has described Sims as an all-purpose running back and it’s obvious they have big plans for him. But Sims missed the first eight games with an ankle injury. He made his debut and had 23 yards on eight carries.

What Arroyo was saying was that the Bucs are going to use a committee approach going forward. That might not be good news for fantasy owners of Tampa Bay’s running backs. But it should be good news for the Bucs.

They have four talented running backs, with four different skill sets, so they might as well use them all.

The Film Don't Lie: Buccaneers

November, 11, 2014
Nov 11
A weekly look at what the Buccaneers need to fix:

Tampa Bay’s running game has gotten worse as the season has gone on and that’s a big part of the reason the Bucs are 1-8.

The latest example of problems in the running game came in Sunday’s 27-17 loss to Atlanta. The Bucs gained only 92 yards on the ground and 39 of those came from quarterback Josh McCown, who ended up as the team’s leading rusher. Bobby Rainey, who got the start at running back in place of injured Doug Martin gained only 14 yards on six carries.

This is not a new issue for the Bucs. In six of their past seven games, they have failed to rush for 100 yards. That has led to an inability to protect leads and helps explain why the Bucs have blown fourth-quarter leads in each of the past three games.

"If you don’t have production from your running game, you’re going to start with the offensive line first and everybody involved in that," coach Lovie Smith said. "From there, though, as a running back, when you get a couple of holes, you need to make someone miss and be able to get yards that way."

There’s no sudden cure coming for the offensive line. That means improvement has to come at running back and there’s a glimmer of hope in that area. That’s rookie Charles Sims, who made his NFL debut Sunday after missing the first eight games with an ankle injury. He had eight carries for 23 yards and two receptions for 17 yards.

Martin has been ineffective when he has been healthy, and it appears he might not be in the team’s plans. Rainey is decent as a backup, but the Bucs need more from their starter.

The team used a third-round draft pick on Sims because the front office and coaching staff believe he’s an all-purpose back. Sims is the future at running back, so get ready to see a lot more of him the rest of the season.

W2W4: Buccaneers vs. Falcons

November, 8, 2014
Nov 8
Five things to watch in Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons.

How the Bucs start. The Bucs continue to struggle early in games. They have scored only 37 points in the first half this season. That ranks last in the NFL. They’ve allowed opponents to score 135 points, which ranks 30th in the NFL. That point differential of minus-98 ranks last in the NFL.

How the Falcons finish. While the Bucs have struggled at the start of games, the Falcons have struggled at the end. They’ve scored just 24 fourth-quarter points while allowing 84. That minus-60 point differential ranks last in the league.

Devin Hester. The Atlanta return man burned the Bucs in the first meeting, returning a punt for a touchdown. The Bucs have had punter Michael Koenen doing a lot of directional punting and are also having him kick high to force fair catches. The Bucs need to use those same tactics to prevent Hester from getting any shots at big returns.

Josh McCown. The quarterback is making his first start since suffering a thumb injury in Week 3. The Bucs went 1-4 with Mike Glennon as the starter. The hope is that McCown can provide a spark for an offense that has had trouble getting into any sort of rhythm. But McCown also struggled in his first three starts and needs to do a better job of protecting the ball.

Tampa Bay’s running game. The Bucs rushed for 113 yards against Cleveland last week. That snapped a string of five games in which the Bucs failed to reach 100 rushing yards. Starter Doug Martin is likely to miss his second straight game with an injury. Bobby Rainey, who is more elusive than Martin, is likely to start. The Bucs also might use rookie Charles Sims for the first time. Sims was on injured reserve, but he’s had several weeks of practice. The Bucs could use Sims as their third-down back.

The Film Don't Lie: Buccaneers

November, 4, 2014
Nov 4
A weekly look at what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to fix:

For most of the season, the Bucs have struggled to run the ball consistently and get their receivers open in the deep game. That's a big part of the reason their offense ranks 31st in the league in yards per game.

But there’s one possible solution out there. The Bucs might be able to open things up for the running game and the deep passing game by throwing the ball to their running backs more often.

The Bucs have thrown some, but not a lot, to their running backs. Starter Doug Martin, who is not a great pass-catcher, has only nine receptions. Backup Bobby Rainey has 23 catches, but the Bucs could be getting more receptions out of the backfield.

That would prevent defenses from loading up on the running game. It also would help take defensive attention away from the wide receivers.

There's hope for this on the near horizon. Rookie running back Charles Sims has been activated off injured reserve and could make his season debut Sunday against Atlanta. Sims has been sidelined with an ankle injury, but the Bucs have had big plans for him ever since they drafted him in the third round.

Sims is a natural pass-catcher who can do more than just catch screens. He had more than 200 receptions in his college career. Sims is dangerous in the open field, and his presence could provide a big boost for the entire offense.
CLEVELAND -- The much-anticipated NFL debut of rookie running back Charles Sims is likely to come Sunday.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have activated Sims to their 53-man roster. Sims, who suffered an ankle injury in the preseason, had been on injured reserve with a designation to return.

Sims, a third-round pick, has been practicing for two weeks. He could get some carries behind Bobby Rainey, who is likely to get the start Sunday in place of the injured Doug Martin.

The Bucs also made a couple other roster moves. They promoted defensive tackle Matthew Masifilo and wide receiver Marcus Thigpen to the 53-man roster from the practice squad.

Thigpen is likely to handle return duties. Trindon Holliday had held that role, but Holliday suffered a hamstring injury and was released.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Buccaneers will be without their punt and kickoff returner and are likely to be without their starting running back and left tackle for Sunday’s game at Cleveland.

 Coach Lovie Smith said the hamstring injury return man Trindon Holliday suffered in practice earlier this week was more serious than originally thought. Smith said Holliday has been ruled out for Sunday.

Louis Murphy and practice squad receiver Marcus Thigpen worked as return men during the portion of practice that was open to the media Friday. Running back Bobby Rainey also has experience as a return man.

But Rainey is likely to be busy doing other things. Running back Doug Martin is listed as doubtful with an ankle injury. That means Rainey is likely to get the start against a run defense that ranks No. 30 in the league. There also is a possibility rookie Charles Sims could be activated from injured reserve and get some carries.

Left tackle Anthony Collins (foot) also is listed as doubtful. If he can’t go, Oniel Cousins likely will get the start.
TAMPA, Fla. -- There have been reports that other teams are interested in trading for Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson, and the same goes for running back Doug Martin.

Usually, you can shrug off trade rumors because trades don't happen often in the NFL. But I'm not pushing aside the rumblings about Jackson and Martin.

That's because trading one or both of them makes sense. The Bucs, who entered the season saying they planned to win now, have shifted gears and they're talking about how young they are and how it takes time to develop. That's what happens when you get off to a 1-6 start.

It's no longer about this season. It's about next year and that's why Jackson and/or Martin could be expendable. Both players should have decent trade value and it might be wise for the Bucs to start stocking up on draft picks for next season.

Trading Jackson might hurt in the short term because he's the team's best receiver. But, in the big picture, dealing him could make sense. Jackson is 31 and receivers generally start declining in their early 30s. The Bucs already have Jackson's eventual replacement in rookie Mike Evans. Jackson also is making $10 million a year and that money could be used toward a number of other areas.

Still, I'll say there's only about a 25 percent chance the Bucs trade Jackson before Tuesday afternoon's deadline. But I'll double the chances on the possibility of a Martin trade.

That one makes more sense than Jackson. Martin clearly is not thriving in the current offensive system. But teams in need of a running back will remember Martin rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a rookie in 2012. He's only in his third season and that could make Martin attractive to other teams because he doesn't have a lot of wear and tear.

Backup Bobby Rainey has looked better than Martin this season. And third-round draft pick Charles Sims could return from injured reserve as early as this week. Sims was drafted by the current regime, presumably because the powers weren't completely sold on Martin.

As it turns out, they were right. It's become painfully obvious Martin is not a great fit in this offense. With Sims coming into the picture, I don't think that's going to change. If the Bucs can get a decent draft pick in a trade for Martin, they should make the deal.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have an extra running back at Wednesday’s practice.

Rookie Charles Sims will practice for the first time since the preseason. Sims has been on injured reserve with the designation to return due to an ankle injury. Sims isn’t eligible to play until the Nov. 2 game against Cleveland.

Sims’ return brings some intrigue to the backfield. Doug Martin has been averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. It’s important to keep in mind that Martin was inherited by the current coaching staff.

That same staff and the front office saw some reason to use a third-round pick on Sims when there appeared to be bigger needs at other positions. It’s likely the Bucs will try to work Sims into the rotation gradually.

But Sims could end up playing a lot more as the season goes on.
You don’t judge a draft for two years. But let’s take an early look at how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rookie class is faring.

The six draft picks have been relatively quiet so far, with injuries playing a role. Only one rookie is starting and two others have been inactive for all three games.

Mike Evans: The first-round pick has been the most productive member of the rookie class. Evans has been starting and he has 13 catches for 138 yards. Still, there is plenty of room for improvement. The Bucs haven’t really taken advantage of Evans’ size (6-foot-5) yet.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins: The second-round pick has been sidelined by an ankle injury the last two games. In the opener, he had just one catch. The Bucs are expecting much more out of Seferian-Jenkins, who has returned to practice this week.

Charles Sims: The running back was taken in the third round and was expected to play a significant role in the backfield rotation. But it hasn’t worked out that way. Sims suffered an ankle injury in the preseason and has yet to play a down. He was placed on the injured reserve list and designated to return later in the season.

Kadeem Edwards: A fifth-round pick, Edwards has been inactive for all three games.

Kevin Pamphile: Also a fifth-round pick, Pamphile has been inactive each week as well.

Robert Herron: He has gotten some playing time as the slot receiver. Herron has three catches for 18 yards. The sixth-round pick has been brought along slowly, but he’s likely to be used more as the season goes on.