Bucs RB Charles Sims could become valuable weapon with right development

Tampa Bay Buccaneers third-round draft pick, running back Charles Sims, runs with the ball during NFL football rookie camp.

Chris O'Meara/AP

TAMPA, Fla. — Mostly, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ draft was a collective ho-hum. There was the predictable first-round pick of wide receiver Mike Evans, followed by four offensive players who caused little more than a minor tremor.

Then there’s the curious case of running back Charles Sims, taken in the third round, 69th overall.

"I don’t pay any attention to that," the soft-spoken Sims said Friday of the chatter about him being a strange pick, given the Bucs’ running back depth. "I just come out here and compete."

First impressions at rookie minicamp almost never reveal anything that matters come the fall. This is the football equivalent of cocktails and appetizers on a first date that avoids disaster: Grins on fresh faces, positive words spoken, good vibes when everyone goes about their lives.

Still, there’s more to be learned about Sims after his opening day in pewter and red. He remains a fascination because of his possible role ("I’m concentrating on tailback," he said) and how much he offered about himself (little).

Pressure's on

Consider: Sims met a group of reporters on the practice field at One Buc Place for about 4 1/2 minutes. He was asked 20 questions in that window. His answers totaled 283 words. That’s about 14 words after each question.

No shock: Nothing that shook the ground was said.

"Just compete," Sims responded when asked about a Bucs backfield that includes Pro Bowl player Doug Martin, Mike James and Bobby Rainey. "That’s what you do. That’s what you play football for. You compete."

This much is known about Sims: Coach Lovie Smith considers him a different breed out of the backfield. Think a pass-catcher, perhaps one day a slot receiver. Think someone who can zig with defenders zag. Think a talent who can add depth with his hands and create danger with his feet, a potential weapon waiting to be refined in an NFC South no stranger to offensive fireworks.

Sims had 3,465 yards rushing and 2,108 yards receiving in a college career that included three seasons at Houston and one at West Virginia. Meanwhile, Martin had a career-high 49 catches his rookie season. James had 10 in eight games last year, and Rainey caught 11 in nine.

"We need as many good players as we can possibly get," Smith said. "When you’re 4-12, you need a little more, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to add as many weapons as we can, guys that know how to get the ball in the end zone."

Bucs running backs must become better receiving threats in Jeff Tedford’s offense to reach that end zone, a destination that was too-often elusive here last year. There’s no debate that Martin is capable of handling a larger load. More so than James and Rainey — both are less of a jitterbug — Martin can become a complete threat at Smith’s disposal.

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Still, it’s easy to see what the coach sees in Sims: A Matt Forte clone. Forte stands at 6-foot-2, 218 pounds. Sims is 6-0, 211 pounds. The similarities are there, and if Smith’s staff learns to maximize Sims in the same way that Forte grew, parallels will be lived.

"We love him," Smith said of Sims. "We have an excellent running backs coach who liked Matt Forte when no one else did. Tim Spencer came to me after the Senior Bowl talking about him. We did a lot of research. Whether someone else likes him, he’s a very good football player and, in time, everyone will grow to really like him."

Don’t take that statement as an indictment on Martin. The Boise State product will remain the engine of the Bucs’ offense. If he tears through defenses like he did as a rookie, when he gained 1,454 yards rushing, the Bucs will ride that momentum to victory Sunday after Sunday.

Tampa Bay is better when he’s elite.

Smith said as much Friday, and it’s hard to believe a bluff will come with the cards the veteran coach now holds. Don’t anticipate him going all-in on Sims as long as Martin remains a toy.

But adding Sims could prove a savvy move, one of those value buys that analysts discuss three or four years from now when the class is judged. The pick of quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round last year was met with raised eyebrows, yet it’s hard to imagine the Bucs’ 2013 season without him.

Sims, as Smith said Friday, could be the "little more" that Tampa Bay needs to turn 4-12 into something more tolerable.

"I didn’t have (any) expectations," Sims said of the draft. "I was just enjoying the process, man."

There’s one piece of advice that Sims has received from coaches early in his NFL career: Know what you’re doing. The same advice could be directed to Smith and his staff in their approach to Sims.

If everyone involved does this right, the Bucs’ largest draft question will become a valuable answer.

Ready or not, Sims has arrived. No matter what the doubters say, he’ll do this his way.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.