Doug Martin first visited One Buccaneer Place last Friday, less than 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had made him the 31st overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. He was in town – after an overnight cross-country flight (or two) – for an introductory press conference and a VIP look around the place.
That was fun. This Friday, it was time for business.
Almost exactly a week after he stood in front of the Bay area media in a shirt and tie in the Bucs' media studio, Martin was in Buccaneer practice togs, working up quite a sweat on the fields behind team headquarters. This was what he really came for, but it took a little getting used to.
"I first had to get acclimated to the weather," said the former Boise State star. "I came from Boise, so it's cooler there. It's just getting used to the coaches and how they coach. Learning the football terminology – those are the things I have to adjust to coming here."
April 26 was the date on which Martin's post-college days turned. Up to that point, he was engaging in workouts and interviews and medical exams, attending the NFL Scouting Combine and Boise State's Pro Day and a variety of NFL team visits. All of that was meant to maximize his value in the NFL Draft; at the moment the Buccaneers called his name after trading up from the second round, his focus shifted to maximizing his value in Tampa Bay's offense.
How that particular issue plays out is going to be one of the most interesting plots for the 2012 Buccaneers. Tampa Bay already has third-year man LeGarrette Blount in the backfield, and Blount has a 1,000-yard rookie campaign on his resume as well as a number of ridiculous highlight-reel runs that showcase his immense potential. The Buccaneers' aggressive move to get Martin indicates that the team wants more than a one-man rushing attack in Head Coach Schiano's debut season, but it remains to be seen how the carries will eventually be divided between Blount, Martin and perhaps even seventh-round pick Michael Smith or holdover Mossis Madu.
This weekend, Martin (as well as Smith) has a chance to get a head start on that process by impressing the coaching staff during the Bucs' three-day mini-camp. Of course, there is no intentional contact allowed in this camp, so it's a bit more difficult for Tampa Bay coaches to get a true feel for what these young players can do, but Martin thinks he knows how to make the right first impression.
"I just want to show that I can be consistent running these plays in the individual drills that we ran," he said. "I'm just showing that I can learn from them. It was a very productive practice [Friday] and I learned a lot. It was nice to know I could be taught by these coaches."
At some point, Martin will be judged on the quickness of his cuts, the sureness of his hands and the toughness of his runs between the tackles. To what degree he excels in such matters will determine how much of the Bucs' rushing attack falls into his hands, and if he has a chance to challenge for a starting job. Right now, however, in the first hot days at One Buccaneer Place, Martin thinks effort is the most important quality he can display. Given that nearly 60% of the players on the field during this weekend camp are attempting to make a tryout contract pay off in the long term, it isn't easy to stand out in the effort category. Martin is going to try his best nonetheless.
"I'm just going out and working hard," he said. "All these guys, they're trying to find a spot for us. It's important that we come out here and bust our butts and go all out."
The Buccaneers worked out for roughly two hours on Friday afternoon, beginning with a full-team stretch on the eastern-most of the three fields behind One Buccaneer Place. After that warm-up, the squad split up into individual position groups, dividing their drills across the first two fields.
A smaller group of players split off that set-up, however, and headed to the third, western-most field, where they worked out under the direct tutelage of some of the team's assistant coaches. It wasn't difficult to pick out the pattern, even without names on the backs of the weekend practice jerseys.
For instance, Assistant Defensive Backs Coach Jeff Hafley staked out a spot on the third field and began running #24 and #37 through a variety of very specific drills. If you haven't checked out the Buccaneers' updated roster yet, #24 is first-round safety Mark Barron and #37 is sixth-round cornerback Keith Tandy. About halfway through the first individual drill, priority undrafted free agents Leonard Johnson and Tramain Thomas joined Barron and Tandy in Hafley's drill.
This was all part of the team's plan to make the most of the three-day mini-camp.
"There are several objectives [in the mini-camp] because it's a different audience," said Head Coach Greg Schiano. "We have our seven draft picks, then we have our free agents that we signed, and then we have a lot of guys that are in tryout mode. We're utilizing all three fields. Our draft picks, we know are going to be with us, they're going to be in training camp with us. So we're actually teaching more in-depth technique to them. The other two fields we're utilizing as tryout fields where we're really doing a good evaluation and doing some drills that we normally wouldn't do at Buccaneer practice. They're kind of more like drills you'd do if you went to work a guy out at college campus or something like that. So there are a lot of different things we're trying to get out of it and it takes a lot of organization to get all those things, but today was real productive. I think we gathered a lot of information."
There were, of course, other periods of practice that brought all of the players together and involved everybody in the same drills. Still, the effort to utilize this weekend as a jumpstart for the rookies who will soon be vying for starting jobs amid the team's veterans is an indication of how important every hour is in the offseason under the new CBA rules. As the month of May continues, the Bucs will transition from the rookie mini-camp into OTAs, voluntary practice-like days that mix veterans and rookies together, and Schiano would like the team's newest players to get acclimated as quickly as possible.
"It's just the Buccaneer defensive back drills that we use with our guys in our Phase II workout, that we're going to use in our OTAs and in training camp," said the Bucs' coach of the drills Barron and company were taking part in. "We're just getting them started on the learning curve of learning how we do things."
The Buccaneers are the only team in the NFC South that is getting an up-close look at its newest players this weekend.
Of the 32 teams in the NFL, only the Houston Texans will not conduct some kind of rookie-specific mini-camp. The majority of the other 31 teams, however, have chosen to schedule their rookie camp for next weekend.
The Buccaneers were one of nine teams to hustle their rookies into town this weekend, and of course they weren't the only franchise to bring in additional players on tryout contracts. The other teams holding rookie camps this weekend are Dallas, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Miami, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Washington and the New York Jets.
The Buccaneers have also set the dates for their 10 allotted OTA (organized team activity) days for the offseason. In this regard, there is a lot more variety among the 32 team schedules, since OTAs can be spread out in a variety of ways over the next two months. The Buccaneers will use six of their 10 OTAs in May, then save the final four as run-ups to the one full-team mandatory mini-camp of the offseason. That three-day camp is scheduled for June 12-14.