Running back Bilal Powell played sparingly as a fourth-round rookie out of Louisville two years ago before rushing for 437 yards on 110 carries (4.0 avg.) in 14 games last season.
Now he's entering the season as the No. 1 tailback on the team's depth chart, and entering his third season as a pro, the 24-year-old could be ready to make the leap into one of the league's top backs.
"Bilal Powell has earned the right to start," head coach Rex Ryan said Wednesday. "He did a tremendous job for us throughout training camp and in preseason games as well."
"I was just going with the ones and I guess somebody announced it and I never knew about it," Powell said of being named the starter, "but it's an honor. It's always been a dream, but my biggest thing is just being able to go out and help this team win games and eventually get into the playoffs."
Marty Mornhinweg and the offense have a tough decision to make for this week's game plan: run the ball against the best rush defense in the NFL, or pass the ball with a rookie QB against Darrelle Revis and a revamped Buccaneers secondary.
Tampa Bay's D held opponents to a league-low 3.5 yards per carry, so the top priority in Sunday's game for Powell, Chris Ivory and Alex Green might not be running the ball but rather blocking for rookie quarterback Geno Smith in his first career NFL game and start.
"I think the biggest thing is giving him time to go through his reads and make his throws," Powell said of what he can do to help the second-round pick out of West Virginia. "He's done a good job up to this point and we just want to protect him and take more pressure off him, allowing him to play loose."
In addition to blocking for Geno, Powell and his fellow backs might also help the QB out with their receiving skills out of the backfield. "It allows us to just give the quarterback another target out there," Bilal said, who caught the ball 17 times for 140 yards (8.2 avg.) last season.
Rex described this morning's practice as "fast-paced," which could prove to be very helpful in preparing for what Powell says is "a very fast defense."
"Our main goal is to stick to our game plan and go out and execute like we've been doing throughout practice," No. 29 said. "Coach Mornhinweg and the offensive staff have done a tremendous job up to this point with the game plan. We feel very comfortable about it and we look forward to seeing it Sunday."