TAMPA — The conversation about Doug Martin always begins with the same question. Can he survive? But after only four days of NFL training camp, players and coaches are giddy wondering this: how much will he thrive?
"He made some explosive runs (Sunday) where you really see why they drafted him so high," guard Davin Joseph said. "He reminds you of a Ray Rice or Maurice Jones-Drew. He's very crafty and he really understands the run game."
Martin, the 31st overall pick from Boise State, has quickly established himself as the Bucs' most complete back. He makes sharp cuts and explodes through the hole. He can power through arm tackles, he is stout in pass protection, runs great routes and has soft hands.
"I feel like I'm a complete back," Martin said. "That's why they drafted me. They felt I was a complete back. I'm trying to show them out here and hopefully it translates to the games."
Martin had highlight reel games at Boise State, where he finished with 3,431 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns. He also recorded 67 catches for 715 yards and four scores.
But in 39 starts for the Broncos, Martin had 20 or more carries in a game just 13 times. Nine of those came during his senior year, including the opener against Georgia when he was held to 57 yards on 24 attempts.
Schiano, who coached Rice at Rutgers and sees a lot of similarities, believes Martin can handle a heavy workload in the NFL. But comparisons can be dangerous. After all, Rice led the league in yards from scrimmage last season before signing a five-year, $40 million contract.
Can Martin be a workhorse back like Rice?
"I think what allows him to have a chance is he is a stout guy," Schiano said. "If he was 5-9, 185, I would say not. He's close to 220 pounds. He's pretty rocked up."
Of course, the real test will not come during training camp practices, when tackles to the ground are banned. In fact, Martin still is technically in a position battle with incumbent starting tailback LeGarrette Blount, the Bucs' leading rusher the past two seasons.
"It should be interesting," Schiano said. "Really, to be able to evaluate them, you look at them in protection, you look at them carrying the ball. But until they have to break a tackle, until they have to make somebody miss making a tackle live, it's awfully hard to evaluate."
Regardless of who starts, the Bucs will make good use of all of the running backs. They also have a speedy change of pace in rookie Michael Smith, a seventh-round pick from Utah State.
"When we watch the tape, (Martin) has been doing really good," Joseph said. "Really, all the running backs — (Mossis) Madu, of course Blount, he's my (favorite). He's going out there and competing. That's the most important thing right now is they're competing and it's a positive competition. You see guys out there encouraging each other, giving each other tips."
Blount was seldom used as a receiver the past two seasons, in part because the previous coaching staff didn't trust him in pass protection. He only has 20 career receptions for 162 yards but has been working to improve that aspect of his game.
Martin isn't just good in pass protection, he relishes it. As a redshirt freshman, he only received 24 rushing attempts. The next spring, he made a short-lived move to nickel cornerback. Last season, Martin missed most of a game against TCU with an ankle injury, playing the final possession for pass protection.
"One guy can't take all the carries, as big and strong and violent as the defensive players are," Schiano said. "If that happens, then certainly, you let it happen. But you don't make it happen. I think that's where you make a mistake when you try to make something happen. I think it's got to play its way out."
But right now, it's not hard to imagine Martin playing his way into the starting lineup.