Twenty-four months ago, on the grass at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, Doug Martin produced the greatest game ever by a Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back. In a 42-32 win over the Raiders, Martin ran for 251 yards and four touchdowns, both single-game franchise records. That was part of a 1,926-combined-yards rookie season that won him a trip to the Pro Bowl and promised a bright future.
Martin lost most of his sophomore year to a shoulder injury but came back healthy in 2014, with fresh legs, youth and a coaching staff that wanted to make the running game the basis of its attack. And yet, with five games to play in the season, Martin has fewer yards in 2014 than he had on that one unforgettable afternoon in Oakland.
Injuries have been the problem, of course. Martin has missed six of the team's 11 games, and he saw limited playing time in the two games in which he got hurt. That means he's been fully on call, from beginning to end, in just three games this season. He has yet to log more than 14 carries in a single outing in 2014, after averaging just over 20 carries a game during his first two seasons.
What's important to note, however, is that the Buccaneers still believe in the Martin that had so much success as a rookie in 2012, even if circumstances have not allowed that success to be duplicated. That's evident in the fact that the Bucs put Martin right back into the starting lineup on Sunday in Chicago after he returned from a three-game absence due to an ankle injury.
"We're not going to stop giving him the ball," said Quarterbacks Coach Marcus Arroyo, the Buccaneers' play-caller. "He's still going to get his touches, we're still going to put him in positions and say, 'Hey, we're going to run this play and you're going to be in it, let's block it and lets go. It's not very different from other plays that you've run and other plays that you've put on tape and the reason we believe in you, and [we wouldn't] give you the touches if we didn't.'"
Added Head Coach Lovie Smith: "Since I've been here, the injuries have stopped Doug's progress. But, no, I haven't seen anything to say that he can't, that he won't get back to form. Injuries would stop anyone. He's back healthy now, so we're looking for him to finish up strong these last five-plus games."
That said, the Buccaneers also want to involve Bobby Rainey, who has had several strong performances this season, and rookie Charles Sims, who has only recently come back from an ankle injury that had him on injured reserve for half the season. It's fair to say that, for a variety of reasons that include too many second-half deficits and some struggles on the offensive line, the Buccaneers have not yet had the right opportunity to figure out how to make use of their deep offensive backfield.
Obviously, all of those three backs would like to get as many carries as possible, but Martin knows that his coaches are trying to find the best combination.
"As a running back you want to have rhythm," he said, "but we have Charles, Bobby and myself in the backfield and each guy brings something different to the table and coach is doing a good job of using what we have the ability to do for the game."
Doug Martin's immediate future wasn't the only topic being discussed on Tuesday at One Buccaneer Place. Below are some additional thoughts from the team's coaches and players.
Head Coach Lovie Smith
"We the changed the routine up, of course, a little bit, running our practice on Tuesday. It rained here also today, so also going down to St. Pete. Changed up that routine a little bit also. Made a couple of roster moves with D.J. Williams, Cameron Brate moving up to the tight end position."
On if he has always given his players the day off on Thanksgiving:
"Different years. Ten years, we've done it a lot of different ways. This year, early on [we] made decision and we're going to do it that way."
On the team's practice at Tropicana Field today:
"It's a Tuesday – no one else is practicing except us. So while we're meeting and having a press conference right now, the NFL says we need to. You can understand guys, there's not a whole lot I'm going to talk about. Of course, you can all understand that."
On if he had a timeframe in mind for when the defense would start to understand the defensive scheme:
"There wasn't a time that we had in mind. We wanted to get up the pace as soon as we possibly could. And to me, that was back then. We've been playing pretty good defense for over a month, since the bye week. I recognize the defense that we have on the field. We're headed in the right direction. We're not there yet, but we're making progress. So, as far as how long it would take, you never know that. But again, that's in the past. We're not there yet. We'll keep talking about takeaways and different things. But I think the guys, in all the places I've been, I think the players here have picked it up fairly quick."
On what triggered the recent production from the defensive line:
"Well, just Michael Johnson getting healthier helps a lot. Not having the production that we wanted early on when he was out definitely hurt us. Gerald [McCoy] had an injury earlier, missed a game. So we had some things like that. Clinton McDonald has been pretty consistent throughout. But yes, 'Jack' [Jacquies] Smith coming on board. You see we've even started calling him Jack Smith now."
Quarterbacks Coach Marcus Arroyo
On having added several new tight ends to the roster:
"We've got a couple guys new to the group. We'll get them acclimated as soon as possible. I know Coach [Smith] is following me up, so I'll let him address roster development and injuries and stuff like that, because that's his mic. We'll get those guys acclimated as soon as we can and hopefully if they can help us out, they can help us out. We'll see how fast we can get them ready to roll."
On the run game:
"[The problem] is a little bit everywhere – and everywhere I mean we've all got our hands in it. There's no one person; we're all trying to make it work. I know the running backs are all trying to make it work, the o-line is all trying to make it work, the quarterbacks are all trying to make it work. There's a lot of things that have to continue to go on to help us to continue to push and elevate that run game and those things we've got to continue to do. We've got to find a way to let those backs hit a few of those big runs. There were a couple chances in last week's game where things were close to breaking on a couple of those, and that was good to see. That development has got to get better and there's no secret about it. Coach has talked candidly about it. We all know that. It's got to improve; we've got to find a way to get it done. We have to continue to find ways to not be one-dimensional."
On trying to give a running back 30-plus carries:
"I don't know if that's – I don't know. We haven't tried that yet. Maybe that is the answer. I don't know. We haven't had a game like that, where we've had to do that. I know the balance as you look throughout the course of it, as we look at the flow of a game goes, I try to keep up with that. We've had pretty good balance in a lot of ways when the game is in the stages of where we feel it should be based on who we've got out there and developments of personnel – that's one part of it within a game plan. We'd love to have a 30-carry game that elevates that running game. I don't know anyone who wouldn't. If that's what we can do to make it better, then let's do it, let's rock it. If that's the answer and we can find out that's it, then let's have at it. We'll continue to find a way to push it forward."
On using the short passing game with running backs:
"We've had stages in the season when we've done that a little bit and it's helped us. And there were times in last week's game where that helped us, playing them underneath. They converted some third downs and found those guys, and there were other times when we tried to get it to them and maybe it didn't get there, or we get tipped unfortunately, or we didn't get a chance to get it to them. Those guys will continue to be really really good pieces of our passing game. We believe that's – we're not just stretching it vertically, but we've got to stretch it horizontally and those guys can be a factor and I think that those guys have shown that they can do some things with the ball. We've just got to continue to find ways to spread it out and spread the wealth and maybe manage those yards like you mentioned, like [Chicago] did a little bit."
On protecting the quarterback:
"I think it's just all working together. I think we've talked about this before earlier in the season: how do you go about attacking a game plan within its protections. You have to find out where those elements are, whether in the perimeter, whether in the edge or in the interior. Is it a scheme, is it a one-on-one battle? And that's tough to get all fixed with one answer, so you do a lot of little things and those things are part of your plan. And we've had those things, as we've built through the course of the season, help us out, whether it's adding protectors or adding chips or getting the ball out faster. To answer your question, we're all of the mind that our quarterbacks can't take hits. Anyone will tell you that from the o-line, from top to bottom. And we're going to try to do our best to put them in position to keep a clean pocket, finish their throwing motion and give them a chance to do the things that you mentioned and play catch like we did in the Washington game."
On being a running back by committee team:
"I think there's a lot to a running back getting a rhythm, I think there's a piece of in-and-out of the lineup that carries over to what you try to do every week, especially when you're in the early stages of it, when you get guys that are banged up or in-and-out and you're going one guy back with the other guy. And in fact if one guy does a good job and another guy does a good job at any level and any place that you have been, you just then try to find pieces and make it continually grow. We're in a state now where all of these guys are doing a piece of it and I don't know if at each stage we're saying 'Hey, there it is, there's the guy who can carry it 30 times right now.' I don't know if that exists yet, maybe we have to try that. I don't know if that exists in our backfield yet. We haven't maybe taken the opportunity to do so and maybe we need to try that; I don't know, maybe that's the answer. Those guys have all shown that they can be productive and with that said, we're going to use them all. Charles [Sims] is young and he's the guy we believe in and Doug [Martin]'s going to do a good job, he's productive and has done some good things, we know he can be productive, Bobby [Rainey]'s done a good job and Mike James has done a good job in certain situations. Jorvorskie Lane, prior to going to down, he probably had the longest carry of the year of 52 yards on a belly play, minus one. They've all had their flashes and we need to just find a way for us all to grow as a group. It's not about the individual, we have to find a way for whoever is carrying the ball, let's run it better and I hope that's the talk in the rooms and I think it is."
On if he was disappointed in quarterback Josh McCown's performance on Sunday after his game against Washington:
"I'm sure he's the first one to say, we're all disappointed in that because again, when you asked if that's what I believe we saw [in the Washington game]? I believe in that game that's what we saw and what he can do. When he goes out and has the game that he doesn't want to have and you don't want him to have and it's obvious you want better, you want better for him, you want better for us first and he wants better for that. We just have to find a way to take care of the football no matter, that's the biggest part no matter who is playing, taking care of the football is the biggest thing right now and it's the number one key to victory. It's untested and infallible and I've said that before. We've got to find a way to hang on to that thing when we're in a game all the way down, late in the stretch and it's 10-7 and then six plays later bang-bang on two turnovers, that's how it happens. We've got to take care of it and the defense did a great job and we have to make sure we're carrying our end of the bargain. We've got to get better and today was a good step forward and we had a good day today and I'm excited about another chance to get better."
On if there was consideration to change quarterbacks after halftime:
QB Josh McCown
On how much the weather played a factor into the game on Sunday:
"Obviously if there were ideal conditions [at all times], we wouldn't have domes and things like that, but it's not ideal and it's not what you want to play in. Again, you have to find a way to work through it and play better. If it's raining, if it's wet and you're relying on the passing game then you just increased the probability of tough things happening. But with that being said, we still executed and made some good plays in it. It is what it is; both teams had to deal with it and we've just have to do a better job of handling it."
On if they were the same conditions that he played last year while with Chicago:
"Not so much. We played one game last year against Baltimore there and it was kind of crazy conditions like that, more wind than anything, but you just adjust and work through it."
On getting the run game going:
"We called in a few things the other day that coaches did a good job of putting together packages that we could get to, things that were little reminders and plays that we get to run to help us and they end up being pretty good runs for us. Obviously you would like to have that going, especially in those conditions, so that you're not relying so heavily on the past, but at the same time you have to be able to be effective throwing and finding a way to do that. Those runs, especially when you can find advantage of looks where you really felt good about the run, that helps us and hopefully we can continue to do that."
On having a chance to win the NFC South division:
"Listen, it's crazy and nobody, I would say [no] team in our division expected to be where we're all sitting right now and it's unfortunate, but the reality of our division right now is that it is still up for grabs and we're not in the favorable position, but we're not out. You don't want it to come like this, with this kind of record, but at the same time you want to be playing meaningful in late November and December and hopefully we can continue to put ourselves in position to do that and it starts by beating Cincinnati. That's the key and again. I was telling somebody just a second ago, our approach would be no different if we had won every game. This week we would line up and try to beat Cincinnati, that's what we would do, our approach would not change and the way we're working would not change. That's where we are, two games out of it, crazy things happen in this league, but you have to take care of the things you can control and for us it's getting a win this weekend."
On trying to string a couple of wins together:
"That's the other part it, is you would never ever ever plan this thing to go like this, but you then realize, I'm sure you guys know the statistics better than I do, but I don't know if a 2-9 team has made it to the playoffs. You stand on the cusps of, OK, we can do something that's never been done before and that's a pretty cool thing to do. Again, it starts with the first game and so you're right, we've got to get some juice, get it rolling and then see what happens. We've made strides in different areas, but we've got to be more consistent and I know I speak for myself just being more consistent and everybody playing at a high-level all of the time."
On if the success of being able throw the ball down field has opened up the running game:
"I hope so and I think it should. If you look at how the Bears played us, they played one or two snaps of man coverage and one of them didn't go well for them. I think that's the influence of our guys and when you can't do that and you've got to take guys out of the box to help out and maybe lean on some guys a little bit and mash them a little bit and move the ball on the ground and then really create a problem for them, because now what are they going to do? Are they going to try and take away the run or are they going to let you work with Vincent [Jackson] and Mike [Evans] outside? That's the idea and I'm very pleased with how the passing game has come along."
On if he felt bad for the defense on Sunday:
"Absolutely. They played exactly how we want to play and exactly what Lovie is about. So that one, for me, that's what made it so tough for me I think, more than anything – those guys, they did what they were supposed to do. We had three possessions there in the third quarter that flipped the game. It makes you sick. And plus, because – even on our side – we felt like we were moving the ball. We felt like there was nothing – it was just the things that we did, and specifically me with fumble especially. I think that was the one that really hurt us and kind of got the ball rolling. Can't let that happen."
On if he felt like the team should have scored more points in the first half:
"No question, absolutely. We would've loved to get away with 14 or 17 in the first half and really build that lead. Got in that situation in the red zone, two-minute and the clock is getting down and they're playing so much coverage that that's an ideal time to [say], 'Hey, let's pound the ball down there and get inside the five and then see what happens,' but where we were with the clock, we couldn't. So then you're forced to just try to throw a few in the end zone with the clock and then at least get away with three [points]. But yeah, we needed more in the first half."
On if he thinks he needs to scramble more with the performance of the offensive line:
"To a degree, depending [on] each game. But at this position, you've got to try to, as best you can, stand back there, have an edge to yourself – for instance, the first interception, you drop back, I read it out and we had what we wanted and you read it out and you want to make the throw and you don't. You can't play the position looking down going, 'OK, is this it? Is this when somebody is going to come through?' I trust those guys. That [fumble] the other day, I held on a little too long trying to let Mike [Evans] work on a scramble drill and they got me from behind. But that's the thing, especially when the [number of] throws is getting up like that, you've just got to know there's another one coming and chunk it and live to fight another day. So we'll do better with that this next game."
On what he sees when he looks at running back Doug Martin:
"I see a guy who has fought through some things this year, and he's had some good carries at times. If we can continue to get that part of the run game going, I think we can see Doug kind of be the Doug that you guys have seen."
On if Martin is still the same caliber running back he was his rookie year in 2012:
"I think so. Everything has just been so up-and-down with him right now as far as injuries and stuff like that. There's just been an inconsistency of just time for him – it's not anybody's fault, it's just where it's been. But I still think he's absolutely capable of doing those things, because it still flashes. So I think it's more of just as a group, as a whole, collectively just continuing to improve in that area."
On if this season has worn on Martin:
"No – I mean, the guys in here are pros, man. They come to work regardless of their situation and put their time in and do their job, and Doug's no different. Doug's no different, man. He's a pro. That's what we need. Right now, you battle through these things, and Doug is battling through it. But I've said this over and over again, it serves you, not only in life, but just on our team in the long haul because you've got a strong backbone."
On if there is added importance to this game with the team trying to get their first home win of the season:
"Absolutely, man. Absolutely, we are. Especially with where we're at as a team, we need to get this win, period. So the fact that it's coming at home, we want to do that – we've got to get that done. It's a good team rolling in here – Cincinnati's a good football team; they're playing really good. But we feel good with where we're at right now and some of the things that are coming together. So it will be a fun game and we look forward to hopefully getting that first one at Raymond James [Stadium]."
On if he feels comfortable with quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo calling plays:
"Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely, yeah. We felt really good going into it and felt good the whole time I was out there. So yeah, that's not changed at all. Like I said, he's doing a great job continuing to call the game and getting better and better. He's learning and growing as this year's gone on. He did a good job Sunday."
On how fun it is for him to see rookie wide receiver Mike Evans continue to develop:
"Yeah, it's cool, man. As a whole, what he's brought to the table, and then Vincent [Jackson] having a big game the other day and Louis [Murphy] – that's cool. That's the kind of efficiency we want to have in the passing game is have guys in different places that can make plays. And so 13's [Evans'] evolution kind of obviously helped speed that up because he brings something special to the table and we understand that."
On if Evans is still learning the game:
"Yeah, he's still learning the game, but I think the way he works and just his mental makeup has allowed him to kind of speed that curve up a little bit. Needless to say, we're obviously happy he's on our team. The sky's the limit for him."
RB Doug Martin
On how the team can fix the running game:
"We have to keep taking steps forward and when it comes down to it, it's just about doing our job and I'm just doing that consistently throughout the whole entire game."
On if he believes every time the touches the ball he will break it for a long run:
"Every time you get the ball, can't expect that it's going to be a 20-yard or 40-yard gain. You have to just play hard, follow your rules, do what coaches have taught you and eventually down there throughout the game that 3-yard run is going to be a 20-yard run. You have to just be patient."
DE Jacquies Smith
On facing opponents following turnovers or on short fields:
"When we get out there in sudden change, then we have to win sudden change situations, whether it's holding them to three points or zero points. As a defense, your job is to stop the other team from scoring and when we get out there, that's what we have to do. Obviously we didn't do that Sunday and that's why the outcome came to what it came to."
On the momentum change that occurred in the second half:
"There are momentum swings in a football game and that's why we always preach playing for 60 minutes and go there and try to finish the job, but there are going to be momentum swings. They were a good football team and we threw our punches and they threw theirs and they came out with the win."