MIAMI — The Bucs' most intriguing position battle of the preseason got off to a scintillating start.
Running backs LeGarrette Blount and Doug Martin put on a show early in Tampa Bay's preseason opener Friday against the Dolphins, with Blount chewing up yardage and defenders after getting the start. Meanwhile, Martin displayed his own dazzling style.
Blount, No. 1 on the depth chart this week, showed more burst than last season, darting up the middle on his second carry for 7 yards. After a 14-yard completion to TE Luke Stocker, Blount put the defense on its heels again, rumbling 16 yards on a sweep. He looked lively on the play, showing speed and decisiveness.
Blount reached the end zone when the Bucs converted a fourth and goal from the 1.
He finished with 30 rushing yards on seven attempts.
Not to be outdone, Martin was inserted as the primary running back on the next possession and — after a couple of meager gains — ripped off a 10-yard, highlight-worthy run. The rookie showed great leverage, keeping his balance despite being nearly perpendicular to the ground by using his free hand to hold himself up. It was a vintage Martin play, an athletic but tough run.
Martin later scored from the 2, finishing with 21 yards rushing on seven carries.
After one game, the running back battle is far from settled. After Martin's performances in training camp it seemed he had taken the lead. But Blount more than evened the score Friday.
HURRY-UP D: Not many teams utilize the no-huddle offensive approach as much as the Dolphins did, but when the Bucs defense sees it again, it will be better equipped to deal with it.
The Dolphins have made the no-huddle a major part of their scheme this season. Though it resulted in some winded linemen, the Bucs didn't appear rattled, at least when the first-team defense was on the field. LB Mason Foster coolly communicated the defensive calls to teammates.
In the first quarter, when the Dolphins deployed their starting offense, the Bucs defense allowed 7 total yards on the six no-huddle plays. Three of those snaps resulted in negative runs.
LOOSE BALL: Undrafted WR Preston Parker has carved out a niche for himself as a slot receiver, but he is endangering his spot on special teams with his predisposition for fumbling on punts and kick returns.
Parker fumbled a punt in the second quarter, something that wouldn't have been so detrimental in and of itself. But consider the context: Parker fumbled eight times in 2011, losing three. Most of those came in the return game. Another factor is coach Greg Schiano's stance that fumbles will not be tolerated. Tampa Bay tied the Broncos in 2011 for the most fumbles in the league with 30.
Parker's fumble, with 2:08 remaining in the first half, was recovered by the Dolphins at the Bucs 48.
Among those competing with Parker is rookie RB Michael Smith. He ripped off a 74-yard punt return in the third quarter.
LINEUP SHUFFLED: The Bucs were without three starters. On offense, TE Dallas Clark never entered the game. No reason was given.
On defense, CB Aqib Talib (hamstring) and SS Mark Barron (toe) did not play. Talib has not practiced since straining his hamstring a week ago. Barron, however, was making progress and returned to practice late in the week.
Talib was replaced by Myron Lewis, opposite Eric Wright. Barron was replaced by Cody Grimm, who has been relegated to the third team during camp. Ahmad Black and Larry Asante had been running with the second team, but neither was called upon to fill in for Barron, the first of the team's two 2012 first-round picks.