Bucs looking deeper at RB

TAMPA, Fla. – Buccaneers running back Doug Martin was asked about his strengths after Thursday’s rookie camp workout.

“My versatility,’’ the first-round pick said. “I believe my versatility is definitely an advantage going into the season and going into training camp. Being able to pass block and being able to catch balls out of the backfield.’’

Martin was then asked what it will take to be the best running back on the team.

“Just being detail-oriented,’’ Martin said. “You’ve got to be in that playbook. You’ve got to be coachable. You’ve got to be a good leader and all that just makes you the best back.’’

I don’t think it was intentional, but it sure sounded like Martin was saying something like “I’m everything LeGarrette Blount is not’’.

Blount has been Tampa Bay’s leading rusher the past two seasons. But he drew criticism from the previous coaching staff for not being an effective pass blocker or receiver. New coach Greg Schiano said in March that Blount has to avoid fumbles if he’s going to get carries. Immediately after drafting Martin, Schiano repeatedly referred to him as an all-around back. The Bucs also selected running back Michael Smith later in the draft.

Blount has been viewed as one-dimensional (a power runner) in the past, and the mere fact the Bucs traded back into the first round to draft Martin is a good indication that the Bucs have big plans for the rookie. But Blount has said he’s worked to improve his pass-blocking and pass-catching skills this offseason.

If Blount can prove that to the coaches in the preseason, he could earn some playing time on passing downs. If not, he still could have a significant role as a power back. Smith is more of a smaller, speed back. The Bucs also have second-year back Mossis Madu.

Even if Martin is as versatile as he says he is and as good as the Bucs think he is, there’s still a chance for Blount and the others to get playing time. The Bucs are expected to run the ball a lot. You need more than one quality running back in a system like that.

Heck, you need several good running backs in any system. Just look at New Orleans (Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Mark Ingram), Carolina (DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert) and Atlanta (Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling).

The rest of the NFC South has loaded backfields. The Bucs might end up with the same thing.

“I think their skill sets kind of mesh nicely,’’ Schiano said. “I think there’s some overlap too because when you look at all of them, there’s no skinny-minnys out there. They’re all kind of jacked up. But some of them have different skills as far as their acceleration. I like the mix.’’