Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs try to make room so Doug Martin can break out

TAMPA — Doug Martin can spin. He can juke. He can grind out yard after yard.

But the Bucs rookie running back has fallen a little short when it comes to producing long runs.

Martin ranks 17th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (61.8) with 71 carries, 247 yards and one touchdown. Only the Jets' Shonn Greene has a smaller yards per carry average (2.7) than Martin (3.5) among backs with at least 60 rushing attempts this season.

What's missing from Martin's game? His most explosive run this season is 17 yards. Sunday against the Redskins, a 20-yarder was called back because of a holding penalty.

"He's had a few (long runs)," coach Greg Schiano said. "Would I like it to be more? Yeah. But I'd give it a little more time until the offensive line gets settled down a little, because he's got that kind of ability."

Schiano declared the Bucs would be a physical running team before the season began, but those plans were greatly derailed by the season-ending knee injury suffered by Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph. What's more, Demar Dotson has replaced Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle because he is a better pass protector.

The result has been fewer gaping holes for Martin to run through. Many of his yards have come after contact near the line of scrimmage and teams are walking safeties into the tackle box.

This puts a lot more pressure on the 5-foot-9, 215-pound Martin to make defenders miss when he does get to the second level.

"I can run through a hole," Schiano said. "It's about what you do after the initial play. Can I make someone miss? Can I run over someone? If it's all blocked up, an average back can make yardage. What are you making on your own? What are you creating as a running back? That's where I'd like to see us continue to grow.

"The front part, let's make sure the guys we have people for, let's cover them up. Let's move them, create some daylight. The people we don't have people for, that's where the back has got to do his job."

Martin, who had more than 20 rushing attempts in only about a third of his starts at Boise State, is stiff-arming his critics by preaching patience.

"I feel fine. It's not what my expectations would be," Martin said. "But it's a work in progress, it's a process throughout the season, and it'll get better.

"As a running back, you've got to be patient. They'll come. They'll come. We've got a lot of the season left, and we'll just keep talking to the line, keep practicing and they'll come. … It's really just a matter of guys staying on blocks, me hitting the hole and all of us following the details."

Martin is in good company. While Alabama rookie Trent Richardson has a 32-yard breakout run for the Browns this season, he also is averaging 3.5 yards per carry (62 rushes, 222 yards, three touchdowns).

The team's offensive game plan hasn't helped Martin, either. Most of the rookie's carries have been inside runs. He rarely has had a chance to press the perimeter on toss sweeps.

Only recently have the Bucs begun to make teams pay in the passing game. It's the ultimate Catch 22 when determining why defenders are catching No. 22. Will the running game become more explosive when the passing game opens up, or will the passing game present more opportunities when the rushing attack clicks?

"He has the ability to be special," running backs coach Earnest Byner said of Martin. "He's probably been limited in some of the opportunities.

"I think those type of things are going to happen. Has he had the opportunities? You all have seen the games. He's had a couple runs that have shown his explosion and abilities. One this past Sunday happened to get called back. We've seen what he's capable of doing and what's on the horizon."

Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected] and can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs. Follow him on Twitter at @NFLStroud.

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