Tampa Bay Buccaneers Season In Review: Running Back
By Leo Howell
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
“A rushing performance for the ages for the rookie, Doug Martin!” – Dick Stockton, FOX NFL Football
Doug Martin was brought in thanks to some shrewd NFL Draft day dealings by Mark Dominik and his team. Knowing that there would be teams interested in running backs at the bottom of round one, and likely dissatisfied with David Wilson from Virginia Tech, who would have likely fell to them in the second round. So the Buccaneers vaulted back into the first round, and selected the short and stout runner from Boise State, and he was instantly viewed as a great compliment to LeGarrette Blount, the bargain bin breakout the Buccaneers had relied on to kick start the running game. Most sports news outlets praised the Buccaneers’ draft class, and the move to get Martin to add depth to the running game was frequently quoted as a bold yet beneficial move.
Martin would meet or exceed every expectation in his inaugural season, making an immediate impact as a featured back for the Buccaneers, and never hitting a rookie wall. He started his NFL career with over 100 yards from scrimmage in his debut against the Panthers, averaging over 4 yards per touch. He would see carries stolen from him by Blount for the next few weeks, as the Buccaneers tried to feel out just who they could rely on to run the football. It wasn’t until the Buccaneers hit their winning streak that they realized just what they had in Martin.
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
He would go over 100 total yards and score once in the Buccaneers close loss to the Saints, and then catch fire for the Buccaneers 4 consecutive wins. On Thursday night against the Minnesota Vikings, Martin had over 130 yards rushing, and added almost 80 through the air, and scored twice. He would double that scoring output, and set franchise records, with a 4 score performance the next week, rushing for an incredible 251 yards. Martin had one of the best games in NFL history for a running back, tallying multiple long runs for touchdowns by breaking tackles and exploding through creases provided for him by a makeshift offensive line. Sure, he was playing the Raiders, but that doesn’t take away from just how explosive he was, and how well he ran to make the Raiders pay for every single mistake they made.
Martin would finish the year with 1926 yards from scrimmage, which is the 74th highest single season total in NFL history. This might not seem like much, but consider that right behind him on the list are players like Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, and Emmitt Smith. His rushing total of 1454 yards is the second best in team history behind James Wilder‘s 1984 performance, but it took Wilder 88 more carries to get only 90 more yards. Martin was a fantasy football player’s dream, and a valuable asset to the real life team as it had a record setting year on offense.
So what is there to say negatively about Martin? Well, there is certainly an apparent element of “boom or bust” with him, but that might have had a lot to do with the patchwork line blocking for him. He never stops fighting for yards, but does occasionally find himself fighting laterally rather than north and south. There’s really no other glaring faults in Martin, because most of his struggles could be written off as a product of a weak offensive line. Plus, how can you be negative about a rookie who gained almost 2000 yards from scrimmage?
The other Buccaneer running backs were… well… how can I be nice about this… They were less than impactful. No other player eclipsed 200 yards rushing, as Blount and Josh Freeman both had around 150 yards rushing on the year. The former carried the ball only 3.2 times per game, and found his role drop from starter to bench warmer in very rapid fashion. D.J. Ware was involved in the passing game as a third down back, and certainly made some impact plays as a receiver. But his numbers don’t add up to much, and his contribution was probably best described as allowing Doug Martin a play or two to catch his breath.
Fullback Erik Lorig caught 12 passes, and did well enough as a blocker. No other running backs made an impact on the 2012 season, as Michael Smith would fail to register a catch or carry despite a strong preseason returning kickoffs and working with the 2nd and 3rd teams.
Overall, the Buccaneers running game was placed squarely on the shoulders of the Dougernaut, and he carried them to a very successful season. Martin was a microcosm of the offense, a bit inconsistent in his delivery, but when he was firing on all cylinders, he was nearly impossible to stop. Martin alone carries the running game to its overall grade, a grade that will need to be repeated for seasons to come for the Buccaneers to improve upon their 7-9 record.