TAMPA – Since the start of the 2016 season, the Buccaneers have had a runner gain 100 yards or more in a single game just three times. None of them are named Doug Martin, but there’s little to suggest that Martin is on the brink of losing his job as the Bucs feature back because of it.
Though Peyton Barber ran 23 times for 104 yards during his first extended look of the season last week, the Bucs do not appear to be ruling out the possibility of starting Martin ahead of Barber now Martin has been released from the league’s concussion protocol.
“It remains to be seen until he’s cleared (from the protocol), but it’s a good problem to have,’’ Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. “I mean, Doug’s a good football player. And Peyton had a good week last week. But I think we also blocked well last week and schemed it up well last week. All those things (were) a part of (Barber’s success).’’
Monken added that the Bucs have “knocked around’’ the idea of how well Martin would have run under the same circumstances Barber had, which suggests they’d like to see if Martin could indeed regain some of his old magic should the scheme and line play work in his favor.
“I know what Doug brings but it’s hard to say,’’ Monken said. “It just didn’t work out that way where Doug was out there (last week when we were blocking well). But the last few weeks I thought we’ve done a better job of getting push and creating some seams for our running backs and it started to show early in the Atlanta game.’’
Martin started that game and ran seven times for 33 yards (4.7 per carry) and also turned a short pass into a 9-yard gain that was wiped out by a holding call before leaving the game with the concussion that kept him out of the Green Bay game.
That kind production may have the Bucs believing Martin could put together a good day just as easily as Barber if he can get the same kind of blocking effort that Barber received. After all, Monken believes that may have been the Bucs best run-blocking effort of the year.
“It certainly felt that way,’’ said Monken, who also credited Barber with making a lot of yards after contact. Of course, that’s something Martin has usually done a good job of as well, so it’s possible the Bucs could go with either Barber or Martin and benefit either way.
The bigger question, though, is what do the Bucs plan to do at the position moving forward. Martin’s salary next year jumps to $6.75 million, which is a lot to pay for a back who’s as injury-prone and inconsistent as Martin is.
That’s one reason they might want to spend the last few weeks looking more closely at Barber, who might be able to give them the same kind of production as Martin but at a much cheaper price. Then again, if the Bucs were confident Barber would do that he probably would have started for them weeks ago.
The bottom line here is that the Bucs clearly have some evaluating left to do at the running back spot and that these next few weeks may indeed prove to be something akin to a training camp battle designed to determine just who the better option is going forward.
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