Despite Leonard Fournette becoming the highest-paid running back on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster following a record playoff performance, head coach Bruce Arians will not tab him as the starter yet.
“There are no starters. This is a new football team,” Arians said in Tuesday’s press conference. “I made that message clear when they left. That team won the Super Bowl. This team hasn’t done s—, so all of those things will be defined in practice.”
Fournette welcomed the challenge on Wednesday when he officially re-signed with the Bucs on a one-year deal worth $3.25 million with incentives. Ronald Jones II, the Bucs’ leading rusher in 2020, will make $2.25 million per Over The Cap.
“We’re going to have to compete. Nothing’s promised to anyone,” Fournette said in Wednesday’s press conference. “Right now, we’re just training to get our bodies right. And now, we’ll start all over and compete for that starting job, and it’s going to be a great one.”
Who sits where on the depth chart will have to wait.
“All of those roles will be defined by the time that we get to the last week of the preseason,” Arians said.
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Deep Running Back Room
Jones came shy of 1,000 yards last season due to injuries. He rushed for 978 yards and seven touchdowns on 192 carries in 14 games played. He also caught 28 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown. His production dwindled in the postseason amid a quad injury and Fournette gaining steam.
Fournette, who became known as “Playoff Lenny” and eventually “Lombardi Lenny”, had one of the best playoff performances ever for a running back. He ran for 300 yards and three touchdowns on 64 carries and caught 18 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown after becoming the starter in the playoffs. It eclipsed his quiet regular season playing behind Jones — 367 yards rushing and six touchdowns on 97 attempts and 36 catches for 233 yards.
“These guys all know what the system is, and the best players are going to play,” Arians said on Tuesday. “Obviously we have two really, really good ones at that position, and I really like Ke’Shawn Vaughn. With an offseason, he’s going to have a really (good) breakout year also.”
Vaughn rushed for 109 yards on 26 attempts and caught five passes for 34 yards and a touchdown in his rookie season last year. The Bucs were initially interested in him because of his pass-catching skills.
Working Toward the Fall
Fournette sees catching balls out of the backfield as a key piece to topping the depth chart in 2021. He said told the media on Wednesday that he’s “been catching 100 balls every day now” in his offseason workouts.
“It’s all about working out and bettering your craft, you know, don’t want to stay the same,” Fournette said.
Arians’ approach to offseason workouts and training camp will stay the same — he will push them hard to meet high expectations.
“We have a very, very physical camp,” Arians said on Tuesday. “That’s the only way we really know how to do it, so if it’s not that way, I’ll know something’s wrong, and I think our players will know something’s wrong. if it’s not that way.”