The Buccaneers looked to bolster that ground game with the addition of West Virginia's Charles Sims in the third round of May's draft. However, it's deja vu all over again for the Buccaneers, who have been left reeling by another significant injury in the backfield.
After Sims suffered what was originally termed a "minor" ankle injury earlier this week, Rick Stroud of The Tampa Bay Times tweeted Friday that the injury turned out to be anything but:
It's no small blow to the Tampa Bay offense. Granted, Sims wasn't expected to push Doug Martin to start for the Buccaneers, but as offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford told Stroud, the youngster was expected to play a significant role for the team:
I think you have to alternate. Even when we had two, 1,000-yard rushers (at California), J.J. Arrington was a 2,000-yard rusher and and we had a couple times guys had a thousand yards apiece. But I don’t believe that one back can carry the load. It’s just too physical. I think you probably need to have two to three guys to bring different things to the table. But I think you at least need to have two to be able to spell them here and there and keep them healthy and tat type of thing. That's the goal to try and create some depth right there where there's not a dropoff when one guy comes in and another guy goes out. There's no dropoff. We just keep going.
Sims had done nothing to decrease the coaching staff's confidence in him in training camp. Quite the opposite, in fact, according to what head coach Lovie Smith told Stroud:
I think you can tell, especially at skill positions, does a guy have it? Charles Sims, I would say, has it. He hasn't played a game and right now we're not live an awful lot. But you can see enough in him to like his future with us. Just talking about it, that's the last thing. He can carry the ball or he can catch the ball. Protections for any young back, that's the thing that they will have the most trouble with early on. But he's picked things up fairly well quickly.
All that's gone up in smoke now. Sims' surgery will keep the rookie out at least half the season, and as ESPN's Adam Schefter points out, the youngster will all but certainly begin the season on injured reserve/designated for return:
The question then becomes what the Buccaneers do now.
The easy solution would seem a simple one. Martin is just going to have to pick up some of the slack. After all, we're talking about a back who carried the ball 319 times and gained over 1,900 total yards as a rookie.
The problem is that many ascribed that workload to Martin's struggles last year. Before getting hurt Martin was averaging a full yard less per carry than he did the year before. As ESPN's Pat Yasinkas reports, Martin has looked good in camp, but that hadn't altered the new staff's plans to lessen his workload:
Doug Martin is back from a shoulder injury that kept him out for about half of last season. That should provide a huge lift for the offense. Martin rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a rookie in 2012, and he has looked sharp in training camp. Under Schiano, the Bucs often overused Martin. That’s not going to be the case with Smith. The Bucs have made it clear that Martin will remain as the feature back but that they’ll rotate in some other backs to keep him fresh. Rookie Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey and Mike James could be in the mix for playing time.
Now, of course, those plans have been hammered. Yes, Rainey and James both showed flashes last year filling in for Martin, but Rainey's 5'8" and James is attempting a comeback from a season-ending injury of his own.
They'll both see a bump in touches too, of course, but they're change-of-pace options. Neither has Sims' talent as a runner or receiver.
Like it or not, "The Muscle Hamster's" workload just got quite a bit bigger, because Tedford's committee attack just got smaller.
And deja vu has struck again in Tampa Bay.
Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.