With a 1-3 record through the first quarter of the season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers know they must improve in many areas in order to begin winning achieving the results they expected when the season began. One area that has not been a problem, however, is the offensive backfield, where fourth-year running back Doug Martin has proved to be one of the team's most dependable players.
"As we talk about our football team, we haven't been consistent," said Head Coach Lovie Smith. "Doug Martin, though, has. It's been pretty much the same type of play from him each week. In order for that to happen you have to say that we've done some good things up on the line to have holes for a running back to be able to run. His play has been consistent throughout. We will need that. We just need everyone to have consistent play like that. We've talked from offseason, training camp on, Doug has gotten himself in a position to play well each game and that's what he is doing."
Martin is tied for eighth in the NFL with 282 rushing yards, and that's obviously a good thing, but he very easily could be higher on the list. The Bucs have faced early deficits in several games, which has affected their second-half play-calling, and in Houston in Week Three they squared off against a defense determined to stop the run. Still, while circumstances have affected his overall numbers, Martin has still averaged 43 yards per carry and has a run of at least 14 yards in all four games so far.
Photos from the Bucs' practice on Wednesday.
"He comes to work every day, he works hard, he finishes plays, he knows his assignments, runs really hard breaking tackles," said Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter. Doug is one of the guys that's playing winning football for us right now.
"Everybody is involved in the run game: the line, the tight ends, our receivers have been blocking, our fullback. But it's always great when that running back can make some yards on his own. Doug is doing it with power and breaking tackles."
Martin has already reached 20 carries in two of the four Tampa Bay games so far, and last Sunday he notched his first 100-yard game since last year with 106 yards on 20 carries against Tennessee. He also scored his first touchdown of the year on a five-yard run.
"I haven't had one of those in a while," said Martin of hitting the century mark. "I take my hat off to the linemen – they did a good job of staying on guys and [blocking] guys downfield, but that's something we've got to continue doing down the line.
Photos of the Bucs Cheerleaders from Week 4 at Raymond James Stadium.
"I've been feeling [good] since training camp. It's a new season and I have a great line in front of me and they've allowed me to do the things that I've been able to do."
Martin is on pace to crack 1,000 rushing yards for the first time since his incredible 2012 rookie season, and the Pro Football Focus website has him as their fifth-highest rated running back of the 2015 campaign so far. He has an offensive coordinator that clearly believes in him and a rookie quarterback who could use all the help he can get. As well as Martin has run through the first quarter of the season, it seems certain that the Buccaneers will continue to lean on him as they try to discover their winning formula for the next three quarters.
Martin, fully healthy for the first time in, essentially, three years, is up for as big of a workload as the Buccaneers want to give him.
"Last year I was hit with the injury bug and I was never able to reach 100 percent," he said. "But now that I am I feel pretty good. I feel good and I feel confident in my game."
- Connor Barth was back in the Buccaneers' locker room and back in his familiar #10 practice jersey on Wednesday, and also back to being his usual light-hearted, fun-loving self. Barth rarely makes it through a media session (or a casual conversation) without joking around a little bit, and this time it was about a 300-pound tire he's been flipping up and down his street for exercise at home. The practice was striking his neighbors as a little "weird."
A conversation about his bumpy NFL ride since July of 2013 could have turned the mood more reflective, but Barth didn't think the last two-plus years had been particularly unusual.
An Achilles tendon tear suffered just before training camp in 2013 landed him on injured reserve, and he lost the Bucs' kicking job the following summer to rookie Patrick Murray. Barth later landed with the Denver Broncos and did quite well for them over a span of about two months, but the Broncos decided this summer to go with young kicker Brandon McManus. Barth quickly ended up back in Tampa, with Murray struggling in camp, but the job went to rookie Kyle Brindza, a late trade acquisition. Brindza's big leg was a weapon on kickoffs and ultra-long field goal attempts, but the Bucs chose to move on after Brindza missed six field goals and two extra points in a two-game span. After releasing Brindza on Monday, the Bucs placed another call to Barth.
"I think it's pretty normal for a kicker," he said. "It's very rare these days that you're going to stick with one team. So you've got to look at as a business. I'm kind of a consultant. What, there's 32 jobs? It's just a blessing to be able to play wherever, no matter what it is. To be able to be one of the 32 guys again is pretty cool.
"At the end of the day it's a business. I'm just looking forward to coming in here and hopefully helping this team win some games. It's nice to be back. I'm looking forward to it."
Barth knows that Brindza's edge on kickoffs was almost certainly one of the deciding factors in this year's competition, and perhaps the reason he was without an NFL job into October despite the fact that he has the league's seventh-best field goal percentage since 2010. Rather than dreading taking on the kickoff side of his job again for the first time since 2010, Barth is looking forward to an opportunity to show he can be a plus for his team in that area, as well.
"It wasn't because I couldn't kick off, it was more that I just didn't have to do it," said Barth of the 2011-13 campaigns, in which Bucs punter Michael Koenen handled the kickoffs and was one of the league's better touchback generators. "It's kind of like when a quarterback gets the, 'He doesn't have a strong arm,' kind of thing. People have just forgotten that I could. I did kick off the first two years here from the 30 [yard line], so it's just getting back in a rhythm because I haven't had to do it. I'm looking forward to actually getting to show what I can do with that, actually get a season to show what I can do from that aspect and do well."
- During training camp and the 2015 preseason, undrafted rookie wideouts Donteea Dye, Rannell Hall and Adam Humphries took turns impressing the Bucs coaching staff and suggesting that they might have futures in the NFL. Since the preseason came to an end and the Buccaneers trimmed their roster down to 53 players on September 5, all three of those young pass-catchers have spent at least some time on both the practice squad and the active roster.
Only Humphries has actually played in a game since the regular season began, though that could change as soon as this weekend. He and Hall originally made the cutdown to 53 on that aforementioned Saturday, but Hall was waived the next day and added to the practice squad. Dye has been on the practice squad since the season began, but this week he was promoted to the active roster while Humphries went in the other direction. The Buccaneers obviously see something they like in all three players, but it is Dye that currently has a chance to show what he can do in a game. With wide receiver Russell Shepard still sidelined by a hamstring injury as the week of practice began, there's a good chance Dye will be active against the Jaguars on Sunday.
Depending upon that active/inactive decision and the Buccaneers' game plan, Dye could give the offense a different sort of weapon out of the slot amid all the 6-5 receivers usually running around for Tampa Bay.
"What he adds to our offense is [speed]," said Smith. "We have some big receivers, big, fast receivers, but the quick-fast – that's what we're really missing a little bit in our receiving corps. That's what he brings to it. How a guy moves up is that when you're on the practice squad, you go against the defense every day, so we have a chance to really see you versus a good group, a starting group of defenders each day, so you get a great evaluation. That's why we moved him up, because he's had a lot of success. We see what he's been able to do consistently. It's just not one time, we've seen that from him and we think that if he's active this week, he will give us something that we haven't had."