The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were one of the few teams around the league to play most of their starters this week, even if just for one series. But that meant we got a short look at both potential starting running backs for the Buccaneers. Both ended up receiving a similar amount of work, with Barber receiving the first carry of the game on the first play from scrimmage. How did the players do against the Pittsburgh Steelers? And what does head coach Bruce Arians have to say about the competition? Let’s start with the presumptive starter, Peyton Barber. And for this, we’re just going to focus on the top two backs.
Barber received the start and the ball on the first play from scrimmage. He took the run for a short gain. He looked for a hole but couldn’t find one as the Steelers did an excellent job clogging the lanes, limiting what Barber could do.
Barber stayed on the field for the next two plays, both of which were passes. He ran a delayed route on the first pass play, where quarterback Jameis Winston hit former Cleveland Browns’ and Baltimore Ravens’ player Breshad Perriman. On the second pass play, Winston hit Barber in the flat for another short gain.
Barber’s second run of the game included a nice cutback inside and a nice spin move to bounce off of a would-be tackler to convert for a first down.
Barber’s third carry showcased another good cutback as he continued to stay on the field for every play on the drive up to this point. That carry came after Barber executed a good block on former Buccaneer Mark Barron.
Barber took the next few plays off, while Ronald Jones received some work, but was on the field for the Buccaneers’ scoring play, a nine-yard pass to Chris Godwin. That would be the end of Barber’s night. Barber finished with 3 carries for 18 yards and 1 catch for 1 yard on eight offensive snaps.
Jones’ first snap came on the eighth play of the drive, just under four minutes into the game. He received a screen pass from Winston for four yards. He would stay on the field as the Bucs ran play-action, which became a Winston scramble.
Two more runs would come for Jones. One would be a cut inside for a few extra yards. Then Jones was able to take the ball to the outside enough for a first down before being taken down. Jones looks like he has been hitting the holes harder and building the speed.
Jones started the second offensive drive of the game for Tampa Bay, with Blaine Gabbert now in at quarterback. He again showed quickness and lateral ability to get back across the line of scrimmage, get outside, and gain a few yards.
His second carry was an attempted stretch, but the Steelers swarmed him, including rookie linebacker Devin Bush. That wound up being Jones’ last play of the game, as the Bucs would then turn to Andre Ellington and Dare Ogunbowale for the rest of the game at running back.
Jones finished with 4 carries for 18 yards and 1 catch for 1 yard on six offensive snaps. He also saw time as a kick returner, returning the opening kickoff for 19 yards.
While speaking to the media on Saturday morning, Arians discussed the running backs and said he was very high on them. He called Barber “a pounding guy that has a great jump cut that’s getting six, getting five.” He then said that Jones “can hit the home run, but he can also pound it in there. He made some really good cutbacks and his explosive shows up.” Arians also spoke about Jones as the first kickoff returner and noted that defenses hate tackling big bodies, giving Jones an advantage in returning kicks.
Overall, he said “I like our room, I really do” as he also spoke highly of Ellington and Ogunbowale.
He also talked about the advantage of having a tandem like Barber and Jones. “You should have a fresh guy all the time, that’s the nice thing about it,” Arians said, via Carmen Vitali of Buccaneers.com. “Even if someone else carves out the third-down role, which both of those are capable of staying in there, they need them fresher.”
It’s still very early in the preseason, but the early returns are that both running backs look good. We know Barber was a very serviceable running back, coming off a 2018 season in which he rushed for 871 yards and five touchdowns and caught 20 passes.
Jones, on the other hand, had a lot of questions marks after a very disappointing rookie season. But early on in year two, Arians seems to have righted the ship for Jones. He looks quicker and more agile and seems to be continually building his confidence.
Arians is working up ways to get both running backs involved, and he may very well have some tricks up his sleeve. If Friday was any indication, there is going to be plenty of room for both running backs to be an asset to this offense. Sure, it may create a headache for fantasy football owners (though the Buccaneers are a favorite stack option in best-ball leagues), but in terms of the actual on-field product, Tampa Bay may have finally found their two-headed monster in the backfield and fans should get excited for what’s next for Barber and Jones.