Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlas Hamster: Why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Should Avoid Putting Too Much Weight on Doug Martin's Shoulders

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers head into 2013 with a very powerful weapon on offense, in the form of running back Doug Martin. Coming off of a very strong rookie season, Martin is poised for another great year behind a healthy offensive line, and with the inconsistencies of Josh Freeman at quarterback, he’ll likely be called upon often to drive the offense forward and score the points needed to beat strong opposition like the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots.

But are the Buccaneers poised to punish Martin by overusing him, and setting him up for failure and disappointment?

According to Greek mythology, Atlas was a titan who joined a group of titans who wanted to overthrow the gods of Olympus. According to the story, when the titans lost, Atlas was sent to hold the sky on his shoulders, forced to hold this heavy load as a punishment that was appropriate given his size and strength.

Cool story, right? The thought of punishing someone by placing an incredible weight on their shoulders sounds like the stuff of legends, and something that would be considered cruel and unusual today. But the Buccaneers may be on the verge of placing an unbearable weight on the shoulders of Doug Martin.

Our friend Sean Tomlinson at The Score.com wrote an article recently pointing out the perils of overusing a young running back, an advising the Buccaneers to hold back on the usage of the explosive young runner, so he avoids the same fate many other promising backs endured. In particular, Tomlinson had this to say about Martin’s usage going forward, and referred to yet another article that shows just how dangerous overworking a running back can be:

We can sometimes make far too much out of a running back’s workload, and the potential for an injury or a sharp decline should it rise much further, a crime I’ve certainly been guilty of in the past. The problem is that while the likes of Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster have soaked in several 350 or so touch seasons and been just fine thanks (though Foster stumbled at the end of 2012 before rebounding in the playoffs), the historical examples of implosions are more numerous and troubling.

So how can the Buccaneers manage Martin properly in 2013 to ensure he remains the Dougernaut for years to come, rather than turning into the Doug-er-not? (Sorry, awful play on words.)

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It all comes down to giving him adequate backup, and putting him in situations to make big plays more frequently. Tomlinson also points out that Martin had eight plays of 40 yards or more, meaning Martin was clearly capable of making a big impact in addition to his every-down tough running that earned him a strong average yards-per-carry and the respect and playing time he deserved.

But without a strong backup, Martin was forced to play more often than he should have, because LeGarrette Blount was not versatile enough to contribute, and the remaining Buccaneers’ runners were less than stellar. In 2013, the Buccaneers don’t appear to have amazing backups, but the possibility of Mike James or Brian Leonard being better than Blount is very strong, and the likelihood that they’ll combine to make up for the loss fo Danny Ware is also quite high.

And as for putting Martin in the right situations, a lot of that will come down to Josh Freeman and the Buccaneers defense. Freeman’s role in this situation is to keep the offense efficient, and keep extra defenders out of the “box” and spread the field for Martin to have more gaps to split and shoot down the field. The defense’s role is to get the ball back to the offense, so Martin can run against a more tired and more often used defense, and do so with the lead rather than from behind. Martin proved against the Falcons in week 17 that he’s capable of making key runs at the end of games to help seal a victory for the Bucs, and the defense will need to live up to expectations to give him the opportunity to do just that.

It is definitely important to limit Doug Martin’s workload in 2013 and beyond, as his skills and abilities are too strong to waste by overusing him. In fact, it would be a punishment to Martin to use him more in 2013 than he was used in 2012. So hopefully the Buccaneers manage Martin’s carries and touches well, so the Muscle Hamster can keep the wheel moving for years and years to come.

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