By Tim Povtak - Sentinel Staff Writer
September 6, 2003
TAMPA -- Michael Pittman won't lose his role as the featured running back for the Tampa Bay Bucs because of the legal woes that are dogging him.
Thomas Jones just might take it away.
Jones was acquired this summer as part of a contingency plan -- an insurance policy -- in case Pittman's personal problems devoured him, but he has become considerably more valuable now to the Bucs.
Pittman, who rushed for 124 yards in the Super Bowl, will be the starter again when the Bucs open the season Monday night against Philadelphia, but Jones has rushed his way into the hunt for the same job.
"[Jones] is a guy now who we are going to use creatively," Bucs Coach Jon Gruden said. "In some sets, you may look at him as the starter. I don't want to say too much, but we're going to utilize our backfield the best way we can, and [Jones] will be a big part of that."
Unlike last season, when Pittman and fullback Mike Alstott got almost all of the carries, the Bucs will start 2003 with more of a rusher-by-committee approach, waiting to see who comes to the top. Backup Aaron Stecker, also in his fourth season, is expected to get more than the 28 carries he had in 2002.
"What may happen eventually is that someone will step forward, become the dominant back and get the majority of the snaps," running backs coach Kirby Wilson said. "But right now, they are all kind of like in a little circle, each making plays here and there. When someone steps up and says 'I'm the man,' then things may change."
It could be Jones, who was impressive in the exhibition schedule, leading the Bucs with 186 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
"I had a good preseason. I played hard and gained confidence in this system," Jones said. "I'm not sure how things will go for me, but if I play hard every time I'm out there, things will work out. Whether I carry the ball one time or 20 times, I just want to help us win games. Let's just see what happens."