With Carnell Williams' rebuilt knees, Derrick Ward's decline, Clifton Smith's fumblitis, and Earnest Graham moonlighting as a fullback, Tampa Bay lacks a true playmaker at the halfback position.
Enter Kareem Huggins.
Who, you ask? Kareem was handpicked by coach Raheem Morris from his alma mater, Hofstra, for a tryout in the 2009 offseason. He was having an impressive training camp and flashed in his first two preseason games before suffering a hyperextended knee in the second game.
The injury prevented the 5'9", 198-lb. speedster from making the 53-man roster out of training camp, and he settled for the practice squad as he recovered.
After Smith went down with his second concussion, Huggins was called up on Dec. 8 and finished the season playing in three games on special teams. He was credited with one tackle and returned two kickoffs for 52 yards.
This offseason, Huggins has worked out diligently in the weight room at One Buc Palace, readying his body for the rigors of being an NFL running back. While he's been impressive with the football both running and receiving, Huggins needed the extra strength to hold up blocking for QB Josh Freeman.
Like most young backs, Huggins didn't have the trust of Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olsen that he could be effective protecting his quarterback in passing situations. He never played a down for the Bucs as a running back last season.
With the work he's put in since the end of last year, it appears that trust may be starting to be earned.
“I think Kareem can play every down in the NFL,” running backs coach Steve Logan told Scott Reynolds of the Pewter Report. “He might be pound-for-pound one of the strongest men in the weight room. He can survive even though he gets mismatched from time to time. I don’t have a problem playing Kareem on every down.”
What Huggins brings to the Buccaneers is a player that can flash and dash. His timed 40 of 4.28 is fastest among the running back group, and he's shown good field vision and the ability to pull down passes out of the backfield.
The 24-year-old flew under the radar a bit at Hofstra despite rushing for 2,188 yards and 21 touchdowns. He was the Iron Mike Award winner, Hofstra's MVP award, two consecutive seasons.
Despite his accolades and physical gifts, he found himself undrafted at the conclusion of the 2009 NFL Draft.
"I just had to believe that I was gonna get here," Huggins told a local TV station during the 2009 training camp, "and when I got here, take advantage of it. So that's why I'm working extra hard."
Many believe that as Derrick Ward's stock is falling, Huggins' is on a meteoric rise. Much like Pro Bowl special teams standout Clifton Smith and jack-of-all-trades Earnest Graham before him, Huggins could be the next undrafted running back to make a significant difference for the Buccaneers.
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