Four weeks after returning from the hamstring strain that robbed him of six games earlier this season, Buccaneers running back Doug Martin looks nothing like the Doug Martin of old.
He doesn’t even look like the Doug Martin that more or less struggled through two injury-plagued seasons in 2013 and 2014.
That Martin somehow managed to grind out an average of 3.6 yards per carry over the course of those two lost seasons. This year’s version is so far picking up just 3.0 yards per carry.
That’s nearly a yard-and-a-half less than Jacquizz Rodgers has been gaining and the Bucs have taken notice.
Eager to get their ground game back in high gear, offensive coordinator Todd Monken strongly suggested the Bucs will lean more heavily on Rodgers this week when they take on the Saints at Raymond James Stadium.
“It was good to have him back (last week after missing a month with a foot sprain),’’ Monken said, “and I assume he’ll only be better this week in a little bit of an expanded role.’’
It would be hard at this point to deny Rodgers an expanded role. Though it’s a small sample size, he has run 95 times for a team-best 422 yards (4.4 per carry) and a touchdown this year.
He’s also been the Bucs most explosive runner. In 10 less carries than Martin, Rodgers has broken off 11 runs of 10 yards or more while Martin has broken off 10.
Two of those runs came last week, when Martin had one of his most difficult running days this year, gaining just 45 yards in 17 carries, 16 of which went for a total of just 30 yards.
There’s no question Martin is running hard. The extra effort he displayed on his 2-yard touchdown run was exemplary, and he continues to do an outstanding job in pass protection.
But the Bucs need to get their running game going, in part to give some teeth to their play-action passing game, so it make sense that they’ll try to make greater use of Rodgers.
Of course, just how much more they’ll use Rodgers is hard to know. Like Martin, Rodgers he is still recovering from the foot sprain that cost him the entire month of November.
And Martin is still the lead back here. But if Martin struggles early on against the Saints, you could see Rodgers carrying the ball earlier and far more often than you normally would.