TAMPA – There was a time not many months ago when it seemed highly unlikely that running back Doug Martin would still be a part of the Buccaneers once training camp rolled around.
He had let the Buccaneers down, after all, earning himself a four-game suspension for a PED violation right in the middle of a playoff push while admitting he also needed help beating a drug-dependency issue.
Unreliable was the adjective most used to describe Martin at the time, and players who are deemed unreliable are usually deemed expendable shortly thereafter.
But unbelievable is the adjective that best describes Martin’s situation now.
Martin came back to the Bucs in the spring looking as fit as he ever has, according to Bucs general manager Jason Licht and coach Dirk Koetter, and his work through the first 10 days of training camp reflect that.
Outside of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy perhaps, no Buccaneers has been more consistent in camp workouts than Martin, who has easily been the Bucs back who has flashed the most during those sessions.
What Martin has done is prove that, when he’s healthy, motivated and focused on football, he’s easily the best back on the Bucs roster, and the way the Bucs have been using him in camp reflects that.
Though they won’t have him for the first three games of regular season (Martin still has three games left to serve on his suspension), the Bucs have been giving Martin the bulk of the first-team reps.
Martin usually gets two first-team reps to one for Jacquizz Rodgers, who is the favorite to replace Martin as the Bucs lead back during those first three games of the season.
It’s a role Rodgers performed well in a year ago, when he ran 129 times for 560 yards (4.3 per carry) but it’s hard to imagine the Bucs keeping Rodgers in that role once Martin returns.
Sure, Rodgers could retain the job for an extended period if he comes out of the gate hot and stays that way, but the way the Bucs have been working Martin suggests he will once again be the team’s primary ball carrier.
The Bucs are definitely deeper at the running back spot than they have been in years past, deep enough in fact to take a committee approach to running the ball should they deem that necessary.
The Bucs, though, still prefer to use a bell cow back and right now Martin is the best bell cow they have. And he proves it every day with just about every touch he gets in training camp.
From a skill standpoint, Martin’s burst, lateral quickness and agility put him well ahead of every other back in the Bucs backfield and until that changes he’ll get the nod over all those other backs as well.