Rookie running back Doug Martin made his first NFL start in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 30-28 win over the New England Patriots on Friday night. He may not have to wait long for his second.
The Buccaneers intend to build their offense around a consistently strong running attack powered by Martin and the team's incumbent starter, LeGarrette Blount. In the long run, if both runners are as effective as the team envisions, it may not matter too much which one gets the call to start on any given Sunday. That said, Martin's presence on the first snap on Friday night was definitely the result of his impressive body of work so far.
"Well, that's why he started the game, because he had showed me that much," said Head Coach Greg Schiano on Saturday. "And I don't think he did anything last night that would say, 'Oh, that wasn't a good move.' I thought he ran the ball well and did some things well. Right now he's just got to continue on that course. He's learning every day and he's a very open-minded guy. He wants to learn."
Blount started the Bucs' first two games, though Martin was seen on the opening drive on both occasions because, at this point, he is the team's top option as a third-down back. Against New England, he was on the field on the initial first down, and he didn't disappoint, helping the Bucs move right down the field for a game-opening score. After Vincent Jackson catch put the Bucs at the Patriots' six, Martin ran once for five yards and then plunged in for the score on second down.
"You want to come out fast, come out blazing, and show what Buccaneer football is all about, he said. "That first series was really what made that statement."
Martin was also in the backfield for the Bucs' second drive of the game, as well as the fourth, fifth and sixth. He had 10 of the team's 13 runs in the first half, racking up 42 yards and getting into something of a groove.
"As a running back, you definitely want to have that rhythm, feel that defense, and things like that definitely helps with the rhythm," he said. "You have to be able to go in and at any time be able to bust a big run."
On the last of those first-half possessions, Tampa Bay took over at their own 28 with 1:41 left in the half and a 17-7 lead. Whether they were considering playing it safe or trying for a hurry-up scoring attempt, Martin made that decision easier with a 19-yard burst over left guard on the first snap. On the play, he slipped off one tackle and then appeared to be going down after another hit before he put his hand on the ground, stayed on his feet, spun away and gained several more yards. It was reminiscent of a play he made in Miami in the preseason opener on which he essentially rolled over on a Dolphins defender and landed on his feet.
Like Blount suddenly hurdling over a defender, that move by Martin is something Buccaneer fans may get used to.
"It happens a lot of times," he said. "[Defenders] think I'm going down. They don't know that I got the hand down and I'm still up. It definitely becomes an advantage."