Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' Doug Martin aims to return to top form

TAMPA — Doug Martin has more than 28,000 followers on Twitter. The record-breaking Bucs running back often posts about random thoughts or events for his rapidly expanding fan base on the social networking website.

Considering he's the NFL's fourth-leading rusher, maybe it's no surprise that what he hears in response usually centers on a single subject: fantasy football.

"That's all I hear about," Martin said Thursday. "Even if I post something totally unrelated, they'll say, 'Hey, man, I really need some fantasy points this week!' It's crazy."

Given Martin's subpar (for him, anyway) performance Sunday against the Falcons, when the rookie rushed for a season-low 2.4 yards per carry and his fewest rushing yards in six weeks, the online pleas for fantasy production will only intensify.

But there's no desperation in Martin, only perspective. Instead of dwelling on why he couldn't match his output of weeks past, Martin instead took pride in turning would-be negative runs into positive yardage against Atlanta to finish with 50 yards. And rather than worry if the never-ending string of injuries might finally be catching up to an offensive line that underperformed in the game, Martin vows that it will be ready to rebound Sunday in Denver.

Most of all, Martin said he plans to continue doing what he has all season: take the running lanes he's given, big or small, and maximize them.

"If I try to do more than I can, that's when something bad can happen," said Martin, who set a franchise record Nov. 4 with 251 rushing yards against the Raiders.

"I just try to go out and keep in mind that I have to just do my job and let things play out. I'll just let it come to me."

When you've had the kind of instant success Martin has, why change anything after a single bad day? Using his current approach, Martin managed to set marks, such as the most yards from scrimmage (486) in a two-game span since Hall of Famer Walter Payton in 1977.

Besides, the Bucs will tell you that, in some ways, Martin didn't have a bad game against Atlanta. Considering how many times he was contacted by unblocked defenders in the backfield, Martin could have had far more than his five negative-yardage runs if not for his elusiveness.

"That is a key thing to what a great back does," coach Greg Schiano said. "No one talks about that. But those are the hidden things that help teams win. Something happens up front and a (defender) flashes into the backfield, and a back like Doug can stick his foot in the ground, redirect and make it second and 10 instead of second and 14. It changes the whole play-calling sequence. If you get it back to second and 9, the fans say, 'Crap, it's second and 9.'

"The reality is it could have been a lot worse."

Martin's knack for making the first defender miss was on display against the Falcons.

"It's the way I run," he said. "I try to run physically. I try to escape from as much as I can. I might spin out of it, I might plow through somebody, I might shake somebody, stiff-arm, whatever. I have a few tools. The idea is not to go down."

Ideally, Martin wouldn't be dodging tacklers in the backfield to begin with. That has the Bucs on a mission this week to determine the source of the penetration. Quarterback Josh Freeman said the video highlighted Atlanta's savvy use of extra defenders at the line of scrimmage, varying the location of that extra pressure to keep the Bucs guessing.

Left tackle Donald Penn said the offense had "a great film session" this week that pinpointed many of the problems.

The Bucs aren't surprised opponents are adjusting. Martin for the past six weeks has been the NFL's equivalent of a hot-handed basketball player sure to draw a double team.

If the Bucs can resolve the schematic issues, it leaves only the matter of the offensive line being able to win matchups up front, something that didn't always happen Sunday.

"We left so much meat on the table," right tackle Demar Dotson said. "You can't leave stuff on the table. We have to come out and redeem ourselves."

If that happens, perhaps those fantasy owners tweeting encouragement will instead be passing along thank-yous to Martin.

"Hey, all you have to do is give the guy a little bit of a crease," Dotson said, "and he's good to go. He's got a chance to do some big things."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.

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