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Doug Martin the key to Bucs' offense

Doug Martin (22) cuts through the Dolphins’ defense in the first quarter as outside linebacker Koa Misi (55) closes in. Martin plays 11/2 quarters and rushes six times for 24 yards and catches one pass for 4 yards. Martin is coming back from a shoulder injury. “I was warm, and I was getting my groove on,” he says, smiling. “I feel very good where I am right now.”

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Doug Martin (22) cuts through the Dolphins’ defense in the first quarter as outside linebacker Koa Misi (55) closes in. Martin plays 11/2 quarters and rushes six times for 24 yards and catches one pass for 4 yards. Martin is coming back from a shoulder injury. “I was warm, and I was getting my groove on,” he says, smiling. “I feel very good where I am right now.”

TAMPA — Get the ball into his hands.

Let him run. Let him dodge and dive, juke and jive.

Throw it to him. Hand it to him. Pitch it to him. Do whatever you have to do. But get him the ball.

Give him the ball any way you can, point him toward the end zone and let him do his thing.

Running back Doug Martin is still the best offensive weapon the Bucs have, and Saturday night against the Dolphins, offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford not only remembered that, but reminded all of us of that.

Good plan. Let Martin do most of the heavy lifting this season. He's a proven star, a special player.

"He's a key guy," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. "Doug is our bell cow. He likes that role."

That's a good thing, seeing as how letting Martin carry the load appears to be the Bucs' best chance at moving the football this season.

Right from the start Saturday night, Martin was the featured threat in the Bucs' attempt to jump-start an offense that had looked like the junior varsity in an abysmal effort against the Jaguars the week before.

Pulling back the curtain ever so slightly on his offense, Tedford gave a sneak peek as to how much Martin will mean to the Bucs' offensive charge this season.

Yeah, sure, the Bucs have a new quarterback in Josh McCown. And we all love to talk about those giant receivers, including former Pro Bowl player Vincent Jackson and first-round draft pick Mike Evans.

But for all this talk about all these new weapons, the best plan of attack for this offense remains the simplest. Just give the ball to Martin. He can cover up for a mediocre quarterback and a subpar offensive line. And he is the easiest player to get the ball to.

Simply put: He's the key to the offense, and Tedford confirmed that Saturday.

On the Bucs' first offensive play Saturday, Tedford drew up a quick screen to Martin coming out of the backfield. It gained only 4 yards, but it showed Tedford's thinking.

With an offensive line that was about as mobile and protective as a bunch of dandelions in the preseason opener against the Jaguars, the Bucs simply sent Martin out wide and tossed him the ball.

In three possessions over a quarter and a half, Martin caught that one pass and rushed six times for 24 yards. Not spectacular. Not SportsCenter-worthy.

But it was reliable, solid. And important. And a preview of what we should see this season.

"I was warm, and I was getting my groove on," Martin said, smiling. "I feel very good where I am right now. Very good."

On a Lovie Smith-coached team that will rely on defense, field position and ball control, no player means more on offense than the guy who can grind out tough yards. No one is more critical than a player who starts drives and then keeps them going.

That player is Martin.

Admit it, you've sort of forgotten about Martin, haven't you? He had that terrific rookie season and then got hurt last year, tearing the labrum in his left shoulder after playing in just six games. We fell in love with his backup, Mike James. And then we fell in love with James' backup, Bobby Rainey.

Then the Bucs went out and drafted Charles Sims this year, and suddenly Sims became the flavor of the month without even having played a meaningful NFL down.

Strange, but it felt like Martin's stock had dropped for no apparent reason. Did we forget about his rookie season, when he rushed for nearly 1,500 yards? Did we dismiss his nearly 2,000 yards of total offense?

Even last season, Martin was on pace to rush for 1,200 yards before he was hurt.

"He's a tough runner," Smith said. "He doesn't complain. He's going to rush for a lot of yards for us this year."

Now Martin is even more important with Sims out at least three months with a bad ankle. I don't care what any depth chart said, it was setting up for Sims to become Martin's backup and a primary third-down back.

With Sims out, James and Rainey, who was banged up Saturday in the 20-14 loss, will see action, but Martin might go back to punching overtime on the clock like he did during his rookie season, when he touched the ball 368 times.

And it was Martin's play Saturday that provided a little more optimism for the Bucs' offense that was so awful against the Jaguars.

"What I liked about this game was it a physical game," Martin said. "We executed our offense better than we did the last game, and I thought we took a step forward in this game."

Baby steps. That's what the Bucs took Saturday night. Baby steps. After the Jaguars game, the Bucs will take it.

The Bucs' first-team offense didn't look like the Greatest Show on Turf, and McCown didn't conjure up any memories of Kurt Warner, but there was movement. In the right direction.

Hey, they even scored a touchdown. Who cares that it was on a 5-yard pass to finish off a 25-yard drive? Fire those cannons!

Like I said, baby steps.

And those steps started with Martin.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8544. He can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620.

Doug Martin the key to Bucs' offense 08/16/14 [Last modified: Saturday, August 16, 2014 11:54pm]
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