1. Bucs

Trio of rookies give Tampa Bay Buccaneers hope for future

Doug Martin, above, Lavonte David and Mark Barron shine.
Doug Martin, above, Lavonte David and Mark Barron shine.
Published Sep. 12, 2012

The running back bursts through the hole, low and fierce, intent on going places. He is not a huge man, but still, he runs as if he is the hunter instead of the hunted.

And you look at Doug Martin and think … maybe.

The linebacker runs to the sideline, fast and aggressively, intent on getting to the open field before the opposing ballcarrier. He plays without hesitation, without doubt.

And you watch Lavonte David and think … perhaps.

The safety crashes into the wide receiver, and the passengers on arriving planes can hear the echo of his pads. Soon, opponents will not see a ball in flight without wondering where he is.

And you nod toward Mark Barron and think … finally.

Could it be? After all of this time, after all of the disappointments, after a wait that seemed as if it would never end, could the Bucs have brought in a new shipment of greatness at last?

The kids are brand new. That should be pointed out, and re-pointed out. They are one game into their careers, and nothing is promised, and there is a lot of football to be played before any of them have arrived. All of us understand that.

And yet … weren't all three of them something to see in their debuts?

Furthermore, isn't it about time the Bucs discovered their next wave of sellable jerseys?

For years, the Bucs have searched and, for years, excellence eluded them. It didn't matter where they drafted, or what position they picked, the Bucs couldn't locate a star with a search party and a GPS. Oh, every now and again, the Bucs have run across a good player — Carnell Williams or Davin Joseph or Aqib Talib — but mostly, it has been like watching a team sift through broken promises. Some years, you would swear the Bucs were drafting by throwing a dart into a roulette wheel in a darkened room.

You know the last truly great player the Bucs picked? The last time they picked a guy who will be in serious discussion from Hall of Fame voters? That would be Ronde Barber a decade and a half ago. Yeah, the same Barber who was celebrated for having such a long, long career on Sunday.

Since then? There have been Dexter Jackson and Gaines Adams and Michael Clayton and Sabby Piscitelli and Brian Price and the rest of the headache brigade. If you are wondering why the crowds have dwindled over the years, that's a good place to begin.

So, yeah, it's a little early to get excited about three newbies. Given the viewpoint of those who have been waiting, it's a little late, too.

The Bucs need these three players to make an impact, of course. It has been a long time since the draft of '95 turned this franchise around. No, no one is comparing any of these guys to Warren Sapp or Derrick Brooks, but for most teams that blossom into contenders, it starts with the addition of young impact players. (And yes, Gerald McCoy and Josh Freeman still have a chance.)

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For three rookies, it was a good start. For a franchise, perhaps it was a re-start.

Martin carried the ball 24 times (and caught four passes), in his first game, and there wasn't one of those when anyone wanted anyone else with the ball under his arm.

David led the team in tackles with six. You noticed him more than any linebacker you have seen for years.

Barron? He led the team in bruises delivered. In one game, Barron showed why the Bucs jumped all over him in the draft. It isn't hard to imagine him as a punisher in the Bucs' secondary.

You could not watch without wondering just how good these guys might turn out to be. None of them looked green, and none of them looked indecisive and, frankly, none of them looked like rookies. In a town that has always preferred its stars to be homegrown, they looked like a promise of better days.

I know, I know. Michael Clayton was good for a while, too. Williams was sensational in his first four games. A career isn't judged over one game, no matter how impressive it might be.

Still, if you have been waiting for reinforcements, they might have arrived.

Barron. Martin. David.

Welcome to town, guys. Play a while, won't you?

Gary Shelton can be heard from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays on 98.7-FM The Fan.


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