He may not have the powerful running style of Doug Martin or a Madden cover to his credit like Peyton Hillis, but if Saturday’s night practice was any indication, Brian Leonard could quietly become a key contributor on the Buccaneers’ offense, serving up in a backup capacity to Doug Martin.
Leonard had a 34-yard touchdown run during the Bucs’ two-minute portion of Saturday’s practice. On Sunday, he got in a lot of work with the second-team offense and lined up with the first team during the two-minute drill.
He’s hopeful his opportunities will increase as he gains further understanding of Mike Sullivan’s playbook.
“To be honest, it’s one of the tougher playbooks I’ve learned in my career,” said Leonard, who spent two seasons with the Rams and four with the Bengals. The 29-year-old signed with Tampa Bay this offseason as a free agent.
“It’s not difficult, it’s just complex. You’ve just got to learn it – a lot of shifts and motions, stuff like that. Once you get the hang of it, once you have a few repetitions of it, you usually get it.”
His versatility should also help. In his seven years in the league, he lined up at running back, fullback, tight end, and he played on special teams. In his four years at Rutgers, he set the school’s receiving record, with 207 career receptions.
With his trademark ‘Leonard Leap,’ he also set all-time records for combined touchdowns (45) and career points scored (272).
“Brian Leonard is a tremendous athlete. For whatever reason, people may not see that all the time. He hasn’t had that much exposure. I had a chance to see him as a high school kid playing basketball, football, every sport, and he is an incredible athlete. He can jump; he can run and do all that other stuff,” said coach Greg Schiano after practice Sunday.
“The good thing is, he is a little bit older but he hasn’t played so much that he’s taken so many cumulative hits, I’m really hopeful that he can come in here and contribute with his versatility.”
Minimal tread for him has mostly been the result of injuries but also not being the ‘top dog’ on the depth chart. His ability has always been overshadowed by someone a little bit stronger, faster, and more powerful.
In his last year in Cincinnati, it was BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Before him, it was Cedric Benson. In St. Louis, it was Steven Jackson’s team. And in Tampa, it is unquestionably Doug Martin who is the starting running back.
But while Leonard doesn’t shine in one particular area, he doesn’t have any real weaknesses either. He can run between the tackles, though not as powerfully as Martin. He can block, but he won’t blow anyone up, one-on-one. He can pick up a blitz. He’s got some pretty good hands too.
He’s an above-average back that once or twice can wow you in unexpected moments — like when he rushed for 42 yards on a fake punt against the Colts, or delivered a key block downfield on a 50-yard touchdown reception by Andrew Hawkins last year — he can put opponents on their heels.
“You don’t know if we’re going to run, if we’re going to pass, is he going to pass protect,” said Schiano. “That’s good when you have a role player that they can’t pigeon hole into a role, if that makes sense.”