With three preseason games down, Doug Martin is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' seventh-leading rusher this summer, nestled on the stat chart right between quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Mike Glennon. Martin has three carries for four yards during the 2013 preseason, and he's not going to move any higher on the list because he won't be put in harm's way on Thursday night in the final tune-up game against Washington.
However, that scant August playing time is of no concern to Martin, who believes he's logged all the preparation time necessary to make his sophomore NFL season at least as productive as his rookie campaign.
"I practice full-speed, I practice [at] game-speed and that's all I need," he said. "The starters aren't going to play [Thursday], so we'll ease our way into the regular season and get this season going."
A year ago, Martin logged a total of 27 carries for 97 yards and two touchdowns during the preseason, but more than half of that output came in the third game, when starters generally see the most playing time. This year, Martin left the second preseason outing, at New England, after taking a knee to the helmet, and then was a healthy scratch in Week Three at Miami. Martin wasn't hurt for the Dolphins game, but it's reasonable to suggest the team saw no reason to gamble that he would be in a preseason week. In addition, the Buccaneers' coaching staff wanted the extra carries to spread around among Brian Leonard, Mike James and Peyton Hillis in order to figure out who would be Martin's primary backup this season.
"The next guys carry the flag and, you know, the next guys are doing a pretty good job of the run fits and their assignments," said Martin. "Whoever is playing on the line has to carry that flag. We've got Peyton, Mike James and Brian Leonard, and those guys have come a long way since they got here – just getting the playbook and learning it, learning it fast and being able to produce on the field . They've all done that pretty well, and they've all showed a little bit of something throughout the preseason."
Martin's 97 rushing yards last summer were not even a footnote to what he would do during the regular season, quickly forgotten as he barreled his way to a team-rookie-record 1,454 rushing yards and 1,926 yards from scrimmage, the third-best total ever for a rookie. It is equally unimportant what numbers Martin puts up in his second preseason, as long as the entirety of his preparations has him ready for the regular season.
He believes that is the case.
"Definitely," said Martin. "During the offseason, through the workouts – I have no doubt that I am in even better shape than I was in last year, so I'm ready to go."
There's a reason that coaches feel comfortable taking some of their established players into the regular-season without much work in preseason games. They've seen it work plenty of times in the past. At the running back position alone there are some strong examples from just last season. For instance, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson famously ran for nearly 2,100 yards despite not logging a single carry during the preseason.
Peterson's situation was different from Martin's, of course, as the Viking all-star was coming back from a knee injury suffered late in the 2011 season. However, Seattle's Marshawn Lynch was coming off a healthy 2011 campaign last summer, and he carried just five times in the preseason before blasting for 1,590 yards once the games started to count. San Francisco's Frank Gore got just four warm-up carries before producing 1,214 regular-season yards. Even a young player like Buffalo's C.J. Spiller ran just 12 times during the 2012 preseason and then racked up 1,244 yards in the regular season.
Doug Martin didn't get much preseason game time this summer, but it's likely he didn't need it anyway. Martin says he's ready to go, and he's just a week-and-a-half away from getting a chance to prove it.