TAMPA — Doug Martin said he felt the minor bumps and bruises that came with touching the football 28 times in his first NFL game, the Bucs' opener against Carolina on Sunday.
The 5-foot-9, 215-pound running back is thick with muscles, adding to a strong belief he can be the Bucs' featured back this season. But though he may have adequate size and exceptional speed, you have to wonder if the pounding eventually catches up to the rookie.
Of last season's top 50 rushers in the league, only 19 played in 16 games. Martin figures to be the focal point of coach Greg Schiano's ground and pound attack. He rushed 24 times for 95 yards and caught four passes for 23 yards in a 16-10 win over the Panthers.
At that rate, Martin could have 448 touches for a 16-game season. Only twice in his career at Boise State did he have a bigger workload in a game than he did Sunday.
"I do think it's a feel thing game to game," Schiano said. "But 28 touches … that's a lot of touches. Now, has it been done? Sure. Has it been done by rookies? So it's not unheard of. But we'll go one game at a time, and then you've just got to keep an eye on him as the season rolls on.
"He's a finely conditioned athlete. He's very muscular, he works out a lot, which is going to help him … handle some of the load. But at the end of the day, that's a tall order. So we'll see."
That workload looked as if it might get heavier. Backup tailback LeGarrette Blount, the team's leading rusher the past two seasons, missed practice Wednesday and was sent by the team to a specialist in Charlotte, N.C., to have an MRI exam on his back and neck.
Blount sustained what general manager Mark Dominik called a "stinger" in the second quarter against the Panthers and did not return to the game. Blount was cleared by the specialist to return to the practice field today, Dominik said.
"He felt a stinger, and it just made us nervous the way he felt it," Dominik said Wednesday. "That's part of the reason you saw what you saw, because he lost some strength. That makes us obviously very nervous about our players. And so that's why we took it real serious about MRIs and had him go see a specialist out of state.
"He's back (Wednesday night) and he'll be on the field (today) and ready to go."
That's welcome news for Martin, who paid a price to gain yardage Sunday. His longest run, which came on the final series, was 15 yards. The rest of the time, he was pushing defenders backward.
"Yeah, it was a lot of tough yardage, a lot of (yards after contact) yardage, and I had to take whatever was given, and it pretty much happened throughout the game," Martin said. "It's nothing unusual for me, and I'm prepared for the workload when it comes."