TAMPA – The NFL Draft is now three rounds old and still the Buccaneers have not selected a running back to either replace or even challenge incumbent, yet beleaguered, starter Doug Martin.
That doesn’t mean they won’t, but at this stage it’s hard to imagine the Bucs adding a running back that will seriously threaten Martin, whose place on the Bucs roster is getting more secure by the minute.
It’s a somewhat surprising turn of events for a team that many thought would grab a likely replacement for Martin in the first round of this draft, but it seems that was never really the case.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht reiterated late Friday his belief that Martin is bouncing back well from his bout with a drug dependency issue and has possibly regained the team’s trust.
“We’ve been happy with the trajectory he’s on,’’ Licht said of Martin. “I’ve said that before but it’s the truth. He has the right mindset right now and he looks good physically.
“We still have some time there but just two years ago he was the second leading rusher in the NFL. Within the building here, we feel comfortable with our guys, and that includes Doug.’’
Licht was asked specifically if at this point it was possible for the Bucs to add a player who could push Martin not just out of a starter’s job but off the roster. He didn’t rule it out but that seems unlikely.
“With Doug we’re just going to keep on pace where we’re at and keep on monitoring,’’ Licht said. “We’ve had great conversations with him. We still have a few rounds left here, so there could be a back.
“But there could be a wide receiver. Any position really. Until you get them in here, until you get first-hand knowledge of them out there on the field and in the meeting room and see them in a preseason game you can’t predict if anybody is going to beat anybody out. But I’d just say we’re very happy with the way things are going with Doug.’’
Martin, who went to rehab for the drug dependency issue but returned from that and has been working out with the Bucs since the offseason workout program began last week, still must serve the final three games of the four-game suspension he earned for violating the NFL’s PED policy.
But in one of the more surprising twists of this draft, the Bucs now appear willing to wait through that suspension to see if Martin can regain the two-time Pro Bowl form he showed before he fell from grace late last season.
Few saw that as an option, especially when you consider the depth of the running back talent in this year’s draft. It’s a pool of players Licht expressed a strong desire to dip into at one point this offseason but now he seems content to pass it by entirely.