TAMPA — Doug Martin is not expected to play football this week. Or next week. Or perhaps the week after that.
The Bucs' $7.15 million running back, the NFL's second-leading rusher last season, is hurt again, which seems to happen to Martin every even-numbered year. How odd.
The hamstring injury he suffered in the first quarter of the Bucs' 40-7 loss at Arizona, according to the NFL Network, could force Martin to miss the next three games — Sunday's home opener against the Rams then home against the Super Bowl champion Broncos Oct. 2 and at Carolina for Monday night football Oct. 10.
Of course, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter would neither confirm nor deny that Martin is out for the Rams game during his news conference Wednesday.
"I'm not going to sit up here and tell our opponents everything we're going to do," Koetter said.
Thankfully, offensive coordinator Todd Monken had beaten him to it earlier in the day when he said that backup Charles Sims would carry the mail Sunday.
"Chuck's been here long enough and has earned the opportunity to be the lead back," Monken said.
Sims is a talented player who had 1,090 total yards from scrimmage (529 rushing, 561 receiving) last season. But as Mark Twain might say, it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
"When you have an injury, whether it's Doug Martin or X, Y, Z, guys are stacked on a depth chart for some kind of reason," Koetter said. "You know, Doug Martin is an elite player in this league. And the next guys up? They're not Doug Martin or they'd be paid like Doug Martin. Those are the guys that we have, and they're going to go in there and do a great job."
The Bucs also have Jacquizz Rodgers, signed two days after the season opener. Rodgers, at 5 feet 6, 205 pounds, backed up Michael Turner and Steven Jackson when Koetter was the Falcons offensive coordinator.
"All I know, when Chuck gets tired, that's when I go in," Rodgers said Wednesday.
How big of a deal is Martin's injury? Well, consider that the only players on offense the Bucs would want to lose less are quarterback Jameis Winston and maybe receiver Mike Evans.
When healthy, Martin has been a 1,400-yard rusher who gets every inch the hard way. He is among the league's best in yards after contact and thrives in the between-the-tackles running game used by the Bucs.
Sims, at 6 feet, is more of a slashing, shake-and-bake type back who never met a run he didn't want to bounce outside. While Sims is a tremendous complement to Martin, the 2014 third-round pick who played at Houston and West Virginia has always been viewed by the Bucs as a change-of-pace back. He's a player with terrific hands who is very valuable as a receiver out of the backfield on third down.
The proof that the Bucs were not sold on Sims as a lead back came during the offseason when Martin was a free agent.
The Bucs were in bidding war with the Raiders, among others, for Martin. Plan B was never giving the job to Sims. While negotiating with Martin, they kept close tabs on Dolphins free agent Lamar Miller (who signed with the Texans) and Jets free agent Chris Ivory (who signed with the Jaguars) and would have been willing to pay one of them big money had their franchise running back not re-signed.
Sims has averaged less than seven rushing attempts per game in his career. His high water mark was 18 attempts for 69 yards and a touchdown in a loss to the Saints in the season finale of 2014.
"There's certainly things that Chuck does differently than Doug," Monken said. "Every back does. There's a few things we may have to do a little differently, but really, we have to do what we continue to believe in. He knows he needs to continue to work on getting his pad level down. So he's got to play well, and we've got to play well around him."
In some ways, Rodgers' skill set more closely resembles Martin's. He rushed twice for 29 yards in the loss at Arizona while playing mostly special teams. But it looks as though Sims will get the first chance to replace Martin on Sunday.
Oh, and this is not the defense you want to face with the junior varsity backfield. A year ago, the Bucs lost to the Rams 31-23. All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald wrecked the game, and the Rams were without linebacker Alec Ogletree, safety T.J. McDonald and defensive end Robert Quinn. All will play Sunday.
Winston was asked how much Martin meant to their success.
"C'mon now," Winston said. "Doug is one of our best players and we love him."
That's why losing him for three games would be so heartbreaking to the Bucs.