Koetter defends decision to bench Martin, mum on finale
Saying he’s trying to put the Bucs in the best position to win games, coach Dirk Koetter stood by his decision to bench Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin in Saturday’s 31-24 loss to the Saints. Running back Jacquizz Rodgers started in Martin’s place and rushed 15 times for 63 yards and a touchdown.
Koetter refused to say whether Martin would be inactive again for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Carolina Panthers.
"Right now, I’m not going to say anything about who’s going to play this week because I don’t want to do Carolina any favors as to who we’re going to play," Koetter said. "As you said, last week, we made a decision for the Saints game based on what I thought was best for our team that week. We’ll do the same thing this week.
"There’s other decisions like that made every week, just this one was a little higher profile."
Koetter’s decision to bench Martin surprised the Bucs franchise running back, who signed a five-year, $35.75-million contact in March, including $15-million guaranteed.
Martin had rushed 119 times for 336 yards and 3 TDs (2.8 avg.) since returning from a hamstring injury, and even though the Bucs went 5-1 during that stretch, the running game disappeared.
However, the move to start Rodgers was surprising only because two weeks earlier, Koetter gave an impassioned defense of Martin.
"I’ll stand by the defense. He is running hard and we do need to give him more lanes," Koetter said Monday. "But again, I made the decision that I thought Quizz would give us a better opportunity last week and Quizz did a good job when he was in there. People can say whatever they want about how Doug would’ve been, we don’t know because he wasn’t in there. I’m not trying to confuse anybody. That’s not my intent. I’m trying to put the Bucs in the best position to win games."
Koetter said the problem is that the Bucs have a hard time making four running backs active in any game because of special teams. Rodgers, Charles Sims and rookie Peyton Barber all play or are backups on special teams. Martin is among a handful of non-quarterbacks who do not.
"It’s hard to get more than one feature back the main carries," Koetter said.
But Martin, who was the NFL’s second-leading rusher a year ago, is such a high-profile player, his future with the club appears uncertain.
"I’m not sure if it should cause it (speculation about Martin’s future) or not," Koetter said. "I don’t really have any good answer for you. That decision was made and I’ll stand by it. And at some point this week, it will be apparent what our decision will be this week and I’ll stand by that the same way."