It wasn’t long ago that Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin was still trying to learning how to play the running back position.
In his first high school game, the first time he ever played organized football, Martin fumbled the ball on a kick return. The defender ran the ball back the other way for a touchdown.
“I had no idea how to play the game, so I watched clips of great running backs. I tried to emulate what they did and just put it on the field.”
Even as Martin progressed, learning how to carry the ball properly and moving up to the varsity level, he wasn’t commanding much attention in terms of college recruiting.
Cal wouldn’t offer him a scholarship, but wanted him to walk on as a defensive back. Boise State, who did offer him a scholarship, lined him up at nickel back. The NFL didn’t seem like much of a possibility then.
Fast forward to 2013, and he’s coming off one of the most successful NFL rookie campaigns in recent history. He finished the 2012 season with 1,454 rushing yards, 1,926 total yards from scrimmage, and 12 touchdowns, earning himself a trip to the Pro Bowl.
But in his mind, the work isn’t finished, and his craft is far from perfected. He still watches clips of Walter Payton and Jim Brown. He sees the way they lower their pads and work the second level.
“They’re relentless runners,” said Martin, who to be the type of back that requires three and four guys to bring him down, just like Payton and Brown.
“Don’t let one guy bring you down. Just run hard.”
And Martin does just that, whether it’s between the tackles or out in the open field. He’s also shown a great set of hands, with 472 receiving yards last year.
And now that he, along with his teammates, have had a year to get accustomed to Mike Sullivan’s offense, 2013 could be even better.
“It’s the second year that I’ve learned the system and as for everybody else, a new system started last year, so getting a new system under our belt — everyone looks pretty comfortable.”
But Martin himself knows not to get too comfortable in his position as a ‘star’ in the NFL. In fact, it doesn’t seem like he’s even comfortable in the spotlight.
“Fans…that comes with the game when you’re successful on the field, and um, I just say ‘thank you very much, thank you very much.’ At the same time, you’ve got to get back on the field and do it all over again.”
In Martin’s case, that means facing some lofty expectations after a stellar rookie season and avoiding any type of ‘sophomore slump’ that has plagued some NFL running backs in recent years.
It happened to Cadillac Williams. After a monster rookie season in which Williams rushed for 1,178 yards, the former first-round pick for the Buccaneers failed to produce another 1,000-yard season.
Steve Slaton finished his 2008 rookie season with 1,282 rushing yards, but was never able to duplicate that success. He was waived by the Texans in 2011.
Head coach Greg Schiano doesn’t see Martin falling into any kind of slump this second go-around. In fact, Schiano said at the team’s minicamp last seek that he thinks Martin can take it to an even higher level.
“If you look at him, I think he looks better now than he did this time last year, physically, understanding-wise, all those things. I think there’s another level for him for sure.”