Bucs’ use of rookie RB White remains astounding

The Bucs’ offensive coaches have done plenty of questionable things throughout the 2022 season, but perhaps the biggest recurring theme is the sporadic and baffling use of rookie running back Rachaad White. The team’s pick in the third round shows week after week that he deserves more shots – perhaps more of a 50/50 split with Leonard Fournette. But most weeks the Fournette is faster than White, and often by a significant margin.

Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: USA Today

The most recent example was Sunday’s 19-16 overtime victory over the Cardinals in Arizona. Fournette touched the ball 29 times, and to be fair he did well with those 29 touches. The veteran fullback ran 72 yards on 20 carries (3.6 avg) and caught nine of his 10 targets for 90 yards.

But there were times during the game when the offense seemed to be crying out for a dynamic playmaker. That’s what white is. He opened the game with two runs for 25 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry on the night. However, he only got seven carries to go with his four goals in the passing game.

At this point in their respective careers, White is the more dynamic running back than Fournette. And it shows. White has a lot more speed, which means it’s worth wondering what he would have done with the ball on Fournette’s 44-yard catch-and-run or his 23-yard run on Sunday night. That’s not to take away from “Sunday Night Lenny,” because those were two of the game’s bigger plays.

But why does Byron Leftwich, the engineer behind this stagnant attack, seem allergic to giving White more chances? What is there to lose if you constantly go three-and-out and put more pressure on your own defense? What’s stopping you from giving White a carry after Fournette is crammed on a second-and-1 (and then again on a third-and-1)? Why does it seem impossible for both running backs to see action on the same disc?

It’s maddening.

Bucs Rb Rachaad White

Bucs RB Rachaad White – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

And as Bucs head coach Todd Bowles has been asked about White all season, he has said time and time again that he would like to see more of the rookie. Now he’s the defensive player, and for better or for worse, he’s left the offense to Leftwich. But this is still his team, and it’s almost gotten to the point where it feels like Bowles’ desire to see more of his rookie running back is being flat out ignored.

Is it a Tom Brady thing? Does Brady trust the veteran Fournette more than the rookie? That doesn’t seem plausible, given Brady’s praise of White throughout the season. Let alone, Brady has looked White’s way in clutch situations quite often throughout the year.

So, what gives? Bowles was asked on Monday if there was a reason why White ended Sunday night with just 29 snaps.

“No, we need to run it a little bit better,” Bowles said. “’Lenny’ (Leonard Fournette) got going a bit more, so [we] rode a little bit on the hot hand, but I thought Rachaad could have played into it a bit more. We will be better at that in the future.”

Will the Bucs really be better at using white in the future?

Bucs Qb Tom Brady and Rb Rachaad White

Bucs QB Tom Brady and RB Rachaad White – Photo by: USA Today

It’s hard to imagine Tampa Bay being better at using white during the last two games of the season. Bowles has been publicly advocating for Leftwich and the offense since week 3 to make better use of white. No. 3 runs back Ke’Shawn Vaughn.

“We have yet to play the other two,” said Bowles. “When ‘Lenny’ [Fournette] gets into the flow, we still have to play the other two. That’s how we entered the game. We didn’t [the ball] a lot in the first half, but that still shouldn’t be a reason not to play against the other guys, and we’ll make sure that happens.”

Weeks went by and while White had a few chances to flash here and there, it still wasn’t the significant jump in playing time that could have possibly benefited the struggling attack. After the Bucs lost 21-3 to the Panthers, Bowles was again asked about White.

“He’s not running one back, but he should get some more actions,” he said. “We always talked about every week. He does some good things when he has the ball in his hands, he does some good things when he’s out there. Obviously Leonard [Fournette] is also a great running back, so we have to find a happy medium and let them both hit the ball.”

Bucs Rb Rachaad White

Bucs RB Rachaad White – Photo by: USA Today

Did the Bucs find a happy medium after that game? Not exactly. White got the start and ran for a career-high 105 yards in the team’s victory over the Seahawks in Germany, but the rookie start was explained away because the offense simply opened the game with a different personnel pack than usual. Sure enough, things didn’t really go well between the two running backs.

When White defeated Fournette 40-36 during Tampa Bay’s 35-7 loss to San Francisco in Week 14, Bowles seemed to indicate that at least some progress had been made with the offense in that regard.

“It’s a little different, it’s a little different. Rachaad [White] is of course a little bit more involved,” he said. “We have the running game a little bit better, not as much as we would like. It’s a little bit more and it’s spread out; we try to spread the ball around some. Since then there have been some injuries, so the line looks a bit different as well. But for the most point we need to score more points, we understand that. And that helps the attacker to score more and the defense more possession.”

Whatever baby steps were taken in bringing White more into the offense seemed moot after the Bucs lost to the Bengals, 34-23, in Week 15. Fournette defeated White 43-29 and when asked if that was the plan Going into the game, Bowles made his feelings clear.

“It’s kind of how it worked,” he said. “It wasn’t designed.”

For the season, Fournette has outscored White 650-420. And while he’s the team’s running back $7 million, Fournette’s play has failed to warrant such a discrepancy. As Bowles has consistently said, there has to be a middle ground.

At least there’s no drama in the Tampa Bay backfield, right?

Bucs Rbs Leonard Fournette and Rachaad White

Bucs RB’s Leonard Fournette and Rachaad White – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

As much talk as there’s been about the Bucs’ poor play, there hasn’t been any drama in between the incumbent starter and the emerging rookie. White, for his part, simply takes the opportunities as they arise.

“I’m just a big guy on opportunities, so I’m really focusing on that,” White said during the team’s bye week. “When opportunities come I just have to make the best of them – that’s up to me to make them. I have a lot of great guys in my corner, my family and my friends and things like that and we all understand that life is about opportunity. In the end, everyone gets their chance and when you get your chance, it’s all about what you make of it.

As for Fournette, Bowles said the veteran is a “real pro” who sees what White can bring to the team.

“‘Lenny’ (Leonard Fournette) is a real pro,” said Bowles. ‘He understood, he knows Rachaad [White] is on the rise. He knows he has a lot to offer too. It really doesn’t matter who starts before us between the two, what matters is who warms to it during the game and who plays next. So he’s a team player and we’re glad he is.

For the sake of the Bucs’ offense — and to avoid Bowles having to repeat himself for what would feel like the 18th time next Monday — White needs to see more snaps, more carries, and more goals against the Panthers in Week 17. But can we expect that to be the case? Given the track record we’ve seen all season, don’t hold your breath.

#Bucs #rookie #White #remains #astounding

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