Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie running back Michael Smith has news for anyone who thinks the battle for lead ball-carrying duties will boil down to a fight between incumbent LeGarrette Blount and first-round draft pick Doug Martin.
"I look at it very differently," said Smith, a seventh-round pick out of Utah State who declared himself a contender following the first round of rookie training camp workouts Thursday at One Buc Place.
"Others may see it (as a two-man race), but I'm not out here just to be a third-down back. I'm going to be out here working and (looking) to start, to play immediately and to make an impact on the team."
At 5-foot-9 and a chiseled 205 pounds, Smith has an almost ideal running back's build. And, as his 4.3-second pro-day 40-yard dash time suggests, he has better than ideal speed.
Smith ran 114 times for 870 yards last year to finish third among all FBS backs with a 7.63 yards-per-carry average.
He also caught 16 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns, and there is little doubt that one of his primary competitors also sees him as a contender, or maybe a threat, for those starting duties.
"It's not just me and LeGarrette," Martin said. "We've got like five running backs in our room that can do it, so there's competition between everybody, and that's good because all that's going to do is make all of us better."
The Bucs needed to improve their running back corps following last year's 4-12 season. They finished the year with only Blount, ineffective Kregg Lumpkin and the seldom-used Mossis Madu on the roster.
Martin has impressed the Bucs with his ability to run the ball, catch it out of the backfield and pass protect. And Smith has wowed the Bucs with his speed.
He said there is another element to his game, though.
"I'm very anxious to put the helmet on and put the shoulder pads on and go out and hit somebody and show that I am also a physical back," he said. "I'm not just a scatback. I'm balanced."
Martin said there is balance throughout the Bucs' running back corps, and he includes Blount in that mix, saying Blount is a good pass catcher and blocker as well.
Bucs coach Greg Schiano doesn't disagree with that assessment.
He made it clear Thursday that he believes the Bucs have a lot of options at the running back spot, which is why he considers the race for carries too close to call.
"I don't have any favorites," Schiano said when asked who he favored in the battle for lead ball carrier. "Most positions, we'll just dish out the reps in an appropriate manner and then we'll see where the chips fall."
Smith hopes a lot of those chips fall his way, and not just on third down. He said he knows he can handle those duties, but he's out to show he can handle an even bigger role.
"I can do anything the team wants me to do," he said. "I'm just here for the team. I just want to be a Buccaneer all the way. I'm 100 percent in, so whatever they want me to do, I'm here."