The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hoping for a fresh start as they begin the second half of their 2016 slate. Doug Martin is just looking for a start, period.
Martin's follow-up to his incredible 2015 campaign, in which he finished second in the league in rushing and piled up 1,673 yards from scrimmage, never really got off the ground. After signing a new contract in March, he was only five quarters into the 2016 season before a hamstring injury pushed him to the sideline. A subsequent setback in Week Five lengthened his absence and the Buccaneers have been patching together an offensive backfield ever since.
WATCH: THURSDAY'S PRESS CONFERENCES
Martin took a step towards getting back in uniform in Week 10 as he returned to the practice field for the first time since his injury. He has been limited in practice on both Wednesday and Thursday, and there's no guarantee he's on track to play this Sunday in Chicago, but he's eager to get his season going.
"I feel good, I feel good," said Martin. "I was practicing yesterday and I felt I'm getting there, getting to that point. This has been kind of frustrating, but we're just going to take all the proper steps and we have been taking the proper steps to get me back on the field."
"It felt really good to get back on the field in general. To put on the pads, we had pads yesterday, so it was good to put on the pads again and be out there with my brother and get out there and do the running back drills. I felt pretty good doing them."
Head Coach Dirk Koetter said the decision of whether or not Martin would be active for Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears will be made by the team's medical staff, in consult with Martin. When Martin is cleared, that will mean he's ready to take on a full workload.
"If you're up for the game, if you're up on the 46, that might mean 64 plays," said Koetter, dismissing the idea of bringing Martin back on a 'pitch count.' "What if you're the only guy left? You can't go in thinking you're going to play a guy 10 snaps, because he might end up being the only guy. You can't do it that way. That's why the 'probable, doubtful,' that stuff's out the window on game day.
Martin said he felt no ill effects from his first practice on Wednesday and was hoping to do more on Thursday beyond just the individual drills. That part of practice is not open for viewing, but if Martin did up his participation on Thursday he was still not full-participation. Clearly, efforts are being made to make sure Martin doesn't repeat his October setback, which he described as 'real devastating.'
](http://www.buccaneers.com/news/article-videos/Watch-Press-Conferences-November-10/9b827974-8e70-4b5b-b819-50868757e6d9)"I thought I was ready to go and I kind of pushed it, could have pushed it a little too hard and had the setback," he said. "So, we're making sure right now that we take extra proper steps. That's why it's probably taking so long. So, we're just going to make sure we take all the proper steps to make sure that I'm fully healthy, so I don't have another setback."
In fact, the only change on the Buccaneers' injury report on Thursday was the graduation of defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (hamstring) from limited to full participation. That, of course, is good news for a Buccaneer defensive front that has been without one of its starting interior linemen since Week Four.
Pictures of the Buccaneers' practice on Thursday, November 10th.
- Koetter mentioned on Monday afternoon thatcommunication problemsrepresented the most pressing problem for the Bucs' defense to resolve in the second half of the season. That has clearly become a point of emphasis for the team during this week's preparations for Chicago.
After taking a 14-13 second-quarter lead over Atlanta last Thursday night, the Buccaneers allowed 27 unanswered points and eventually lost 43-28. That game came just four days after Tampa Bay had lost in a lengthy overtime contest to Oakland, with its defense on the field for nearly 45 game minutes. It seems reasonable that all that action took its toll on Thursday night, but Buccaneer defenders don't see it that way.
"Playing a bunch of snaps is an excuse," said team captain Gerald McCoy. "It was us. We went and watched the film and we were not on the same page. That's what looking in the mirror got us. Everybody was able to look at themselves and say, 'I thought it was this, and the other person thought it was that,' and it wasn't. And if you've got a defense with just two people out of the 11 thinking two different things, you're already messed up. So, it was more so of us not being in place and Atlanta – a really, really good team – taking advantage of that. So, we've got to be better and we've got to get on the same page."
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McCoy is right that it doesn't take much of a breakdown to create a golden opportunity for an NFL quarterback. There isn't one particular scapegoat on the defense, and coordinator Mike Smith was quick to take a good deal of the responsibility for the issue.
"It's everybody," said Smith. "There's lots of communication that has to go on, not only prior to the snap of the football, but after the ball is snapped, based on how they disperse. And we have not done a very good job of making sure that our players understand that. We have not done a very good job of executing it. And it happens at all levels. Our linebackers have to communicate with our defensive line, our defensive line has to communicate with our linebackers and we have to communicate to the secondary as well.
"There are a lot of moving parts and when you don't communicate well and you're mis-fitting a gap or you have the improper leverage on a pass play, you're going to give up some big plays. And we've got to do a better job making sure we put in a game plan that our players can go out and execute."