TAMPA — Two days after being benched for the first time in his pro career, Doug Martin's season appears to be over and his future with the Bucs is in doubt.
Martin, the two-time Pro Bowl running back who was told to take a seat for the Bucs' 31-24 loss to the Saints on Saturday, will not be active for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Panthers.
In fact, the Bucs plan to sign running back Russell Hansbrough from the Giants' practice squad today, a move that appears related to Martin.
On Monday, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said he stood by his decision to make Martin inactive for Saturday's game at New Orleans and start Jacquizz Rodgers in his place.
Both Martin and the Bucs have insisted he is healthy and that it was a "coach's decision" to make him inactive. Since returning from a hamstring injury, Martin has struggled to regain the form that made him the NFL's second-leading rusher a year ago.
Martin had rushed 119 times for 336 yards (2.8 per carry) and three touchdowns over the previous six games, and though the Bucs went 5-1 during that stretch, their running game disappeared. The decision to start Rodgers was surprising only because two weeks earlier, Koetter gave an impassioned defense of Martin.
"I'll stand by the defense. He is running hard and we do need to give him more lanes," Koetter said Monday. "But again, I made the decision that I thought Quizz would give us a better opportunity last week and Quizz did a good job when he was in there. People can say whatever they want about how Doug would've been, we don't know because he wasn't in there. I'm not trying to confuse anybody. That's not my intent. I'm trying to put the Bucs in the best position to win games."
Monday, Koetter declined to say whether Martin would be inactive again this week. But that was before the Bucs arranged for Hansbrough to travel to Tampa.
An undrafted free agent from Missouri, Hansbrough has had three stints on the Bucs' roster this season and been released by the club five times.
"Right now I'm not going to say anything about who's going to play this week because I don't want to do Carolina any favors as to who we're going to play," Koetter said. "Last week, we made a decision for the Saints game based on what I thought was best for our team that week. We'll do the same thing this week. There's other decisions like that made every week, just this one was a little higher profile."
Rodgers started in place of Martin on Saturday and rushed for 63 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
Martin signed a five-year, $35.75 million contract last March, including $15 million guaranteed.
Koetter said the problem is that the Bucs have a hard time making four running backs active in any game because of special teams. Rodgers, Charles Sims and rookie Peyton Barber all play on special teams or are backups on that unit. Martin is among a handful of non-quarterbacks who do not play any special teams.
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"It's hard to get more than one feature back the main carries," Koetter said.
Koetter said the Bucs could use both Martin and Rodgers in the same offense, but making that adjustment in Week 17 would be difficult.
"If we were starting from scratch and we knew what we had, could we do that? Yeah, we could," he said. "We could do anything, but that's not what we're doing."
But the decision to sign Hansbrough off the Giants' practice squad indicates Martin will at least be inactive again this week. It's unclear whether the team plans to release him or place him on some reserve list.
This much appears clear: Martin won't carry the football for the Bucs again this season. You have to wonder if he ever will again.
"I'm not sure if it should cause it (speculation about Martin's future) or not," Koetter said. "I don't really have any good answer for you. That decision was made and I'll stand by it. And at some point, it will be apparent what our decision will be this week and I'll stand by that the same way."
Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.