TAMPA, Fla. -- Despite being decimated by injuries this season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' running attack has a glimmer of hope, thanks to a familiar face who was brought back last week. Mike James offers something that is lacking in the current group of backs, which features two undrafted rookies who were initially on the practice squad. That something is experience.
"It's always good to be wanted. That's a good thing," said James, who was selected in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft and spent his first three seasons with the Bucs, including 2015 in Dirk Koetter's offense. He's seen action in 20 games, including three starts his rookie season. "I'm just ready to help us win," he said.
James was in camp with the Bucs this year and was slated to be their third running back, behind Doug Martin and Charles Sims, but he was waived/injured in Week 1. He declined to provide specifics on the injury other than to say, "I just tweaked my leg a little bit."
NFL rules prevent players who have reached injury settlements with their teams from re-signing with those same clubs for the length of the settlement plus six weeks. So after recovering from injury, James signed with the Detroit Lions, spending three weeks on their practice squad before they released him on Oct. 25. He signed with the Bucs Nov. 1.
"It was a relief," James said of getting the phone call from Tampa. "It's a good thing to be wanted. I'm happy to be here. Tampa's home to me. I got drafted here. I love being here. I love the fans. I love the people. I love the city. I was happy to be coming back here."
James played 20 snaps on offense and 17 on special teams in Thursday night's 43-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons and may see more action with Antone Smith done for the season and Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers still recovering from injuries. He admitted, though, that it was challenging to get into "football game shape" quickly after not playing the first nine weeks of the season.
"You can't really simulate practice and games -- it's really hard to," James said. "But I think I was in good enough shape to play the other night. I think I played fairly well when it came down to my conditioning, so I was okay with that."
He also acknowledged that jumping around from city to city can take a toll on players, especially with families involved. "It is weird. You've gotta learn a new city, new teammates, all that stuff," said James, who grew up about an hour from Tampa in Haines City, Florida, and before the Detroit stint had spent his entire football career -- in college and the pros -- in Florida.
"It's just hard," James said. "I was just talking to a guy from the Lions, and we were just talking about the emotional roller coaster this game has on you. Family is a big part of that. The guys who don't have their families, they got teammates and stuff around them. It's a tough thing."
Now that James is back with the Bucs, how quickly can he get up to speed to be a major player on offense? Is it like riding a bicycle, or does he have to relearn some things? "Some things," James said. "Just getting polished back up on the game the way I want to, yeah. It's kind of like riding a bicycle, but you do need to go back and repolish some things."
But James has experience in the Tampa system not only as a starter but also in dealing with circumstances similar to what he now faces -- having to step into action right away, like Peyton Barber did last week in his first NFL start. That's how James got his first three NFL starts, when Martin went down his rookie season. He had a monster 153-yard rushing performance against the Seahawks in Seattle that included a jump-pass touchdown to Tom Crabtree. And then? "[Then] I broke my ankle," said James.
"A couple of guys got hurt, so it was sort of like how Bobby [Rainey] did," said James, whose season was done after Week 10 that year. "So Bobby came in when a lot of guys got hurt. But that's the name of the game. Last year, no running backs got hurt. We [were] all healthy. This year is a different story. That's just how the game is."