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Bruce Arians talks pecking order for Bucs’ backfield

The Buccaneers recently added to their headline-grabbing offseason by signing veteran running back LeSean McCoy, a six-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro. But it appears that move won’t impact the top of Tampa Bay’s depth chart at the running back position.

Speaking with the local media on a Wednesday conference call, head coach Bruce Arians had plenty to say about the state of Tampa Bay’s backfield. Perhaps the biggest takeaway has to do with the top of the depth chart, as Arians said it will be Ronald Jones II “carrying the load” in his third NFL season:

“RoJo [Ronald Jones II] is the main guy. He’ll carry the load. All of those other guys are fighting for roles – [for] who goes in second when he gets tired, maybe who is the third-down guy. But they’re all fighting for a role and special teams will have a lot to do with that. LeSean – adding him – he’s a great veteran, he’s a very bright guy and he’s already coaching those guys and helping them out. He’ll find his niche easily.”

When asked about his confidence in Jones and how it was influenced by the USC product’s time as the starter in 2019, Arians had this to say:

“Just the way he handled it. He improved dramatically from last April to December. He has shown that he’s the guy. He is a guy with a lot of talent. He is excellent in the screen game. His run after catch is good. Just for him – how much can he expand it? But I have all the confidence in the world [in him]. He put a lot of time in working out and catching balls to improve his hands in the offseason and it’s showing up already.”

Jones ended up leading Tampa Bay in carries last season and became the team’s No. 1 back late in the year as Peyton Barber took more of a backseat. And on the whole, his second year as a pro was much better than his rookie campaign. He went over 1,000 yards from scrimmage (724 rushing yards, 309 receiving yards), ran for six touchdowns, averaged 4.2 yards per carry and really looked more and more comfortable as the year went on. It now appears that he’ll be heavily featured in the offense during the 2020 season.

As for McCoy’s role in the offense, Arians was asked specifically about what the 32-year-old can add to Tampa Bay’s passing game:

“Oh yeah, he’s a heck of a receiver. That’s the one thing that gets me excited having played against him all these years is that he’s a hell of a receiver and he’s still got a very explosive first step. Yeah, I think that will be a big part of it.”

In his 11 NFL seasons, McCoy has totaled 503 catches on 647 targets for 3,797 yards and 16 touchdowns, averaging 7.5 yards per reception. So, he’s certainly shown an ability to catch passes out of the backfield, and given Tom Brady’s tendency to get his running backs involved in the passing offense, there’s certainly a role to be carved out for McCoy. If nothing else, McCoy is proven depth behind Jones and a veteran presence that can work with 2020 third-round pick Ke’Shawn Vaughn in his rookie season.

Dare Ogunbowale, Raymond Calais, T.J. Logan and Aca’Cedric Ware are the other backs looking to stick on the roster, and as Arians said, special teams will have a lot to do with what happens when roster cuts come around. Without preseason games, it’ll definitely be interesting to see how position battles play out as camp unfolds.

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