Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians acknowledged the two front runners for starting running back after minicamp, but he said the final decision will have to wait until training camp.
Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette carried the load primarily for the Bucs at different points in 2020, and it looks similar this coming season. The Bucs wrapped up minicamp on Thursday with training camp on tap for late July.
Jones started off shouldering the load with 978 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020, but injuries hindered him down the stretch and in the postseason . That’s when Fournette took off after mustering 367 yards and six touchdowns in the regular season. He amassed 300 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the playoffs plus 18 receptions for 148 yards and a touchdown, which earned him the nicknames “Playoff Lenny” and “Super Bowl Lenny.”
“Both those guys are starters in my mind,” Arians said according to Buccaneers.com’s Scott Smith . “Whoever goes out first doesn’t really matter to me. But that will be determined in camp.”
Tampa also has second-year back Ke’Shawn Vaughn and free agent signee Giovani Bernard competing carries. Vaughn averaged 4.2 yards per carry and 6.8 yards per reception in 2020. Bernard gained 3.4 yards per carry and 7.6 yards per catch with the Cincinnati Bengals last year.
“Ke’Shawn’s made a nice move but he has to be a better special teams players right now because of what’s in front of him,” Arians said per Smith . “But I have all the confidence in the world in him as a runner and a receiver. And Gio has added a nice presence back there.”
Arians wasn’t happy with Vaughn the week before during voluntary organized team activities when the young back chose quarterback Tom Brady’s informal workout instead. The coach said he hoped Vaughn would “make a better decision” per The Athletic’s Greg Auman .
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Jones vs. Fournette
Arians believes the Jones-Fournette competition will be one of the best position battles at training camp next month.
“They’re so talented and they both bring so much to the table,” Arians said in an interview on the Pewter Report podcast in May . “Hopefully if they’re both healthy, they are splitting time. I know fantasy doesn’t like that, but those two guys…I mean, RoJo is one of the best runners I’ve been around. Lenny had that great run in the playoffs. He showed what they drafted him for in the top 5.”
The Jacksonville Jaguars took Fournette at No. 4 in the 2017 draft from LSU, and he burst on the scene, helping the Jaguars reach the AFC title game. Fournette’s success in Jacksonville didn’t last as the team released him right before the 2020 season. The Bucs picked him in time for Week 1.
Jones joined the Bucs as a second-round pick in 2018 from USC. He only carried the ball 23 times as a rookie, but took off in 2019 as the primary back with 724 yards and six touchdowns in a pass-heavy offense.
Bernard Brings Third-Down Relief
Tampa adding Bernard not only made the running back room deeper, but it brings in reliable third-down back as Arians told Pewter Report last month.
“He’s an excellent receiver, but he’s a hell of a protector and he’s extremely smart,” Arians said on the podcast . “You don’t see any blitzers coming through that weren’t supposed to be getting to the quarterback with [Bernard]. He’s a bright guy and he can really still play.”