Bucs RB job open despite Fournette’s return

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TAMPA, Fla. — Four days after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers re-signed running back Leonard Fournette, who went from a backup during the regular season to 448 scrimmage yards in four postseason games, coach Bruce Arians said he is leaving the door open for who will start in 2021.

“No. That will all be defined through practice and OTAs and training camp and preseason,” Arians said Tuesday.

“There are no starters. This is a new football team. I made that message clear when they left, that that team won the Super Bowl. This team hasn’t done sh–. All those things will be defined in practice.”

It was a different tune from when Fournette first signed with the club in Week 1 of the regular season last year, and Arians made it clear that Ronald Jones would be the starter, something he reiterated throughout the season. It wasn’t until Jones suffered a broken finger that required surgery and was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list that Fournette saw starting action in Weeks 15-17.

That action continued when Jones suffered a quad injury just prior to the wild-card game at Washington, allowing Fournette to earn the moniker “Playoff Lenny,” and later “Lombardi Lenny.” Fournette started all four postseason games.

“Those guys. They all know what the system is. The best players are gonna play,” Arians said. “Obviously we had two really, really good ones at that position, and I really like Ke’Shawn Vaughn. I think with an offseason he’s gonna have a breakout year also. All those roles will be defined when we get to the last week of the preseason.”

When asked about wide receiver Antonio Brown, their only key free agent who has not been re-signed, and how quickly he hopes to have that position resolved, either by re-signing Brown or adding an outside free agent, Arians said, “[We’re] just gonna take our time. There’s offers out there, and we’ll see how it goes.”

Arians said that, just like last year, the team would consider drafting a quarterback to develop behind Tom Brady, even at No. 32 in the first round.

“We go into that every year. If the guy is there at the right time that we really think has a great future, and no better time than to have one sit for a couple years and learn from those two guys — each round, there’s gonna be one of those guys in that picture to try to see who’s the best available right then.”

Arians also provided an update on tight end O.J. Howard, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon in Week 4, just as he was getting into a groove with Brady.

“Yeah, he’s real close,” Arians said. “He’s not running on the grass yet, but he’s really close. The last time I checked, he was 80, 85% bodyweight running on Ultra G and he looks fantastic. I don’t see any setbacks. If and when we can get together this offseason program, on the field, he’ll be ready to go. What a huge addition to have him back because he was having a great year. … The sky’s the limit for what he can do in this offense.”

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