Pittman: what you see isn't what you get
© St. Petersburg Times
He sees what you see.
The familiar images move in front of Michael Pittman's eyes, time and again, never adding up to what he wants them to be. The running back, the one with the body from Mount Olympus, skitters around the corner. He looks reckless, impatient, and the play, promising for a moment, turns out to be less than you might have expected.
Pittman looks, sighs, then begins to rewind the tape again.
"Dang, Mike," his wife, Melissa, says. "How many times are you going to watch that?"
One more time. Maybe a couple of more times after that. Just long enough to decide if he should have cut here, or there. If he should have sped up, or slowed down. If there was another yard he could have gained, another angle he should have taken.
It is there, in his living room, in front of his replays, that you can sum up Pittman's first nine games with the Tampa Bay Bucs. You can find it all there, the disappointment and the search for clues as to why Pittman, too, has been less than many would have expected.
"This is probably the toughest stretch of my career," Pittman said. "I'm disappointed, very disappointed. For some reason, it hasn't happened. But at the same time, I'm out there busting my butt to get the job done. I'm not down on myself, and I'm not down on my teammates."
By now, you would have hoped Pittman had arrived. That was the plan when the Bucs signed him as a free agent. Pittman was supposed to be the every-down back the team had lacked, a budding star on the verge of blossom. This was supposed to be his breakout season.
Pittman thought so, too. By now, Pittman says, he would have expected to have about 700 yards at 4.5 per carry. Instead, he has 413 yards (3.5).He has not been a rolling ball of butcher knives. And those who once thought he was the answer have moved on to other questions.
He hears what you hear.
In Tampa Bay, fans have long believed the position of running back was a part of the democratic process. They cheer for Mike Alstott, and they long for Aaron Stecker. Pittman? These days, he appears to be running as an independent.
Frankly, the guy looks like he should be a load. He has Mercury's feet and Hercules' arms. No one in the Bucs locker room looks more like an NFL player than Pittman.
So far, however, the parts haven't added up. You keep waiting for Pittman to have a breakout game, but it hasn't arrived.
There are times, with the ball under his arm, Pittman appears to be in too big of a hurry. He does not run with that relaxed flow of a great back, evaluating as he moves, allowing the lane to develop before he explodes through it. Sometimes Pittman doesn't wait on his blocking to form, which is understandable with this organization. James Wilder's blocking only arrived the day before yesterday.
Part of the reason, Pittman admits, is he's pressing.
"I just have to relax, and it will come," he said. "I've got to be more patient, cut back a little more if the lane is there."
In the meantime, Pittman said he understands fans expected more.
"When you come in to be the starting running back, there is pressure," he said. "The public demands that you perform. I hear them. Someone will say "Pittman s----,' or "Pittman ain't this' or "Pittman ain't that.' I understand.
"But I don't think they've seen the real Michael Pittman yet. The only people here who know what I can do are the coaches and me. I believe in my ability. I believe I'm a good player. It'll come. I just need a breakout game."
Say this much for Pittman: He could blame his blockers, and everyone would agree. He doesn't. He could blame his right ankle, which has bothered him since training camp. He doesn't. He could accept his fate. He doesn't.
For a man who sees what you see and hears what you hear, this is the difference.
Despite all the evidence, Pittman believes what you do not.
He believes it's still going to happen.
"We have to be able to run the ball," Pittman said. "If we don't have a running game, everyone is going to sit back on the pass. We have to believe we can get the job done."
For the Bucs, now would be good. Going into their final seven games, a decent running game seems imperative.
If the Bucs can run, they can dictate tempo, field position. If they can run, they keep the pressure off Brad Johnson, who can take deeper drops and do more damage. If they can run, they can keep the pressure off their defense.
If they can't run, the field tilts uphill.
It isn't an easy thing for a team to turn from a mediocre running team into a good one down the stretch. ... particularly when it's about to play the Panthers, the league's third-ranked defense.
For the Bucs, for Pittman, it doesn't matter. They have to run the ball better. Period. Either that, or the next replay isn't going to gain any more yards than the one before it.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
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