You will never know how small the holes might be as Doug Martin runs toward them. You will never know the pain that awaits on the other side. You never know the speed the job takes, or the strength, or the vision.
Warrick Dunn knows.
You will never know how far third and 1 can be. You will never know how much effort it takes to pull away from the giant men with bad attitudes. You will never know the elation that waits in the end zone.
Mike Alstott knows.
You will never know the beauty of running free in the secondary. You will never know the satisfaction of entering the huddle after a crucial run. You will never know the grind of a 16-game season.
Earnest Graham knows.
If you think Martin is impressive to the untrained eye, try looking through the eyes of other men who have held the same job. Martin is impressive to those guys, too. He looks like a player in a hurry to get to stardom to them, too.
"He's somewhere between an Emmitt Smith and a Ray Rice,'' said Dunn, who has gone back to school and is closing in on his MBA. "I haven't seen a lot of him, but I've seen the highlights. He has really good balance, and a feel for finding the sweet spot at times, and he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He's not the fastest guy, but he has the quickness that makes him dangerous. He has great upside.''
"I think he's dynamic,'' Graham said. "I've heard a lot of comparisons like Ray Rice. To me, he's a stronger, more physical version of Darren Sproles. I think he exceeds the escapability of Maurice Jones-Drew and Rice. His explosive ability is rivaled by few guys.''
Rarely has a running back arrived this fast or been admired this deeply. No other Buc has gained 1,000 yards in 10 games. Few others have been such gamebreakers every time they touched the ball.
Then again, carrying a football for a living is a young man's game. Consider: The Bucs have had 11 1,000-yard seasons by eight players; four of them did so in their rookie years.
"He's a good running back, he hits the hole with patience and makes his first decision," Alstott said. "He doesn't dance. He'll start with 1-yard runs and then it's 3, 4, 5, and then he'll blow the game open. He plays bigger than his size. He's got (almost) 30 catches and 1,000 yards. He's been invaluable."
So far, Martin has shown speed, and strength, and balance. And vision, and elusiveness, and willingness to block.
"In the NFL, you want to be really good at something,'' Graham said. "To him, it's his versatility. You can throw him a checkdown, and he turns it into 40 yards. If a defender doesn't fit the run right, it's a 50-yard gain. A creative coordinator can turn him into one of the most explosive running backs in the league.''
So what constitutes a complete back? Dunn will tell you it is being unselfish, doing things that don't show up in the stat sheet, understanding blocking schemes.
"It took me a long time to get to that point,'' Dunn said. "Early, I was just running. It was in my fourth year, maybe even in Atlanta, before I started to understand.''
Dunn laughs. "My first year, I was blocking Reggie White. I don't know how smart that was.''
Ten games in, and already, there have been comparisons between Martin and the other good running backs the team has seen. You can talk about James Wilder's single-game record (Martin broke it), or Dunn's burst, or Graham's determination, or Cadillac Williams' impressive rookie season. When a running back is this fast, the comparisons are, too.
"He and Cadillac are totally different,'' Graham said. "In all my years, watching Cadillac run his first year was the most physical thing I've seen. I wouldn't compare him to Warrick, who had such a natural feel of running the ball. I think he's like Robert Smith. He's a stronger version of Reggie Bush and Sproles. Throw the versatility of Thurman Thomas in there. I like what the Bucs have now, and I still think he can get better.''
Said Dunn: "I've heard some people compare him to me, but I don't think we're in the same situation. We were just starting to build, and our offense was horrible. He has a quarterback capable of making it the first or second tier and playmakers at receiver and a veteran tight end.''
Dunn should know. He had five 1,000-yard seasons as a pro, including two for the Bucs. Wilder (who had 2,844 yards over a two-year span) and Errict Rhett (who had 1,000-yard seasons in each of his first two years in the league) are the only other Bucs who broke 1,000 yards twice.
That's a crucial question of Martin: Can he last? No running back was ever faster out of the starting gate than Williams, who gained 434 yards in his first three games. Injuries stripped Williams of much of his burst, however, and he never gained 1,000 yards again after his rookie season.
The good backs know how hard it is. They know how fragile success can be. They know how elusive the end zone can be.
All that said, you have to think that Martin could be special.
After all, he's dartin' Martin, and he's just now startin'.
Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan.
WARRICK DUNN ON MARTIN
"He's not the fastest guy, but he has the quickness that makes him dangerous. He has great upside.''
earnest graham on martin
"I think he's dynamic. His explosive ability is rivaled by few guys.''