You won't see Erik Lorig on the stat sheet from Sunday's game, unless you're able to read between the lines. The best indicator of the fact that Tampa Bay's rugged yet cerebral fullback was back in business after an extended layoff due to injury comes in the difference between these two numbers: 65 and 144. Or these two: 2.2 and 4.8.
The Buccaneers opened the season on the road against the New York Jets, without Lorig and with Martin coming off a nearly inactive preseason. The results in the ground game weren't particularly pleasing, with Martin accounting for all 65 yards on 24 carries, the vast majority of which met resistance right at the line of scrimmage.
This past Sunday, the Buccaneers' running game kicked back into high gear, picking up 160 yards on 33 carries and averaging nearly five yards per tote. Martin accounted for 144 of those yards, which actually stands as the second-best single game total of his young but outstanding career, trailing only the unforgettable 251-yard outing he had in Oakland last year. Lorig was a part of that outing, returning from a roughly six-week absence due to a calf injury to resume his spot as Martin's personal escort.
Martin, who was effective in many ways last year but statistically had better results, on average, out of two-back sets than one-back sets, certainly noticed the difference.
“The running game was amazing," said Martin. "The line did an awesome job staying on their guys and getting a push off the line of scrimmage. You have to give a lot of credit to Erik Lorig, he came back, his first game from injury. He also did a good job, and [so did] the receivers blocking downfield.”
Lorig, as some Buc fans may recall, was actually drafted as a defensive end out of Stanford in 2010, though he had experience on offense in high school and early in his college career. He was converted to fullback in September of his rookie season and, as would be expected, grew only gradually into his role. It was in 2012, after the departure of the much-appreciated Earnest Graham, that Lorig fully came into his own as a lead blocker. In fact, he became so proficient that his presence was clearly missed in the preseason and the regular-season opener. Having Lorig involved gave the Bucs a more physical presence at the point of attack in their ground game and allowed Martin to find seams between the tackles that weren't there in New York.
“What was the key there?" said Martin. "Well, you’ve got your left guard, center, your right guard, and also the tackles, but, like I said, they did a good job of staying on blocks and just 'out-physicaled' the other defenders. That’s basically the reason why I was able to get upfield, and also Erik Lorig being able to block the linebackers.”
Lorig, of course, deflected the credit right back to his talented partner in the Bucs' backfield, the player who rang up an incredible 1,926 yards from scrimmage as a rookie.
"Doug is a great player," said Lorig. "That was one of his best efforts I've actually seen. It was great to come back and to help contribute to Doug doing that, [along with] the offensive line. In terms of the running game, it was a really good experience."
Head Coach Greg Schiano indicated that the team thought long and hard about activating Lorig for the season opener but felt the safer course was to give him one more week and make sure he didn't have another setback with his calf, as had happened early in training camp. Lorig then put in his first full, unencumbered week of practice leading up to the Saints game and went into his 2013 debut feeling at full strength.
I think there were some rusty plays and there were some plays that I felt like my usual self. It seems like once you get all those reps under your belt you tend to get back to your usual self.
"Yeah, I was feeling good, and I'm continuing to feel good and continuing to get my confidence back and just pushing and working," said Lorig. "I think there were some rusty plays and there were some plays that I felt like my usual self. It seems like once you get all those reps under your belt you tend to get back to your usual self. It's something where you've just got to keep working and keep grinding to get back to yourself."
Martin, too, felt better heading into the second game of the season than he had in the opener. He carried the ball only three times during the preseason, largely because he took a shot to the head during the first series in Week Two at New England and the Bucs responded by taking an extra-cautious approach the rest of the way.
“The last game was my first full game [since] coming back, and I kind of had to get used to the game speed again, and I feel I did that later in that game," said Martin. "This game, I just wanted to come out and hit the ground running.”
He did, and he found more open ground to run on thanks to Lorig helping pave the way. The play of both starting backs in the Bucs' offense on Sunday is a very good sign for the offense moving forward."The way I look at it, I'm always out there trying to execute the best that I can and to do the best I can for the offense," said Lorig. "In terms of execution, in terms of performing well, that's certainly the attitude I take every time I step on the field."