TAMPA — Changes to the starting lineup in Week 3 of the preseason might or might not be meaningful, but when Bucs rookie running back Doug Martin overtook LeGarrette Blount on Friday night and started against the Patriots, something about it felt permanent.
The evidence has been there for weeks. Martin, a first-round pick from Boise State, consistently impressed coaches in training camp with his broad skill set — running, catching and blocking like a veteran.
Those things carried over to the first two preseason games, in which Martin's dazzling runs were among the highlights. Friday, in the preseason game that most closely resembled the regular season as starters played nearly three quarters, Martin did it again.
He twisted and twirled to a 19-yard run that shouldn't have been more than 4 or 5. Earlier, he punched the ball into the end zone from 1 yard, caught checkdown passes to bail out quarterback Josh Freeman, and did whatever else was required.
He was, again, the all-around running back coach Greg Schiano has sought.
"It felt really good that the coaches would trust me to be an every-down back," Martin said after the Bucs' 30-28 victory. "But I have to keep doing my job. It's not over. We have the whole regular season to go."
Martin finished with 53 yards on 13 carries (4.1 average) and three receptions for 12 yards.
The distribution of carries between Martin and Blount in the regular season remains to be seen, but it would not be surprising if coaches divvied it up as they did Friday. Martin's workload was nearly twice that of Blount, who rushed seven times for 22 yards (3.1 average).
While both will have a role, as Schiano has consistently maintained, it wouldn't be surprising if one back has a higher percentage of carries. And if it's Martin, he thinks the consistent carries will make him better.
"As a running back, you definitely want to have that rhythm going and feel the defense around you," he said. "I definitely got a rhythm tonight."
That's when Martin's running form really shows. His low center of gravity, as with Friday night's 19-yard run, lets him keep moving as defenders presume he's going down.
"That happens a lot of times," he said. "They think I'm down, but they don't realize I've got that hand down (on the ground for balance). I definitely use that to my advantage."
It would appear the Bucs haven't seen the last of that from Martin.