When I asked Greg Schiano on draft night about what he liked in new RB Doug Martin, I got the gamut of answers. Vision. Hands. Blocking ability. Elusiveness, as evidenced by his presence in the return game. All sounds great in theory.
But let’s not forget about that other guy in the backfield.
Sure, Martin seems, from almost every so-called expert, like a three-down running back. Capable of doing things that maybe LeGarrette Blount hasn’t done so well. And there’s no doubt the Bucs would love to trot out a running back that would allow them to mix up their playcalling. Create some deception.
But let’s not forget….this is a Buccaneer team that is looking to play a physical brand of football. The Carl Nicks signing proved that. Along that vein, there might not be a running back more physical in this league than LeGarrette Blount.
Blount has his noted shortcomings. Blocking has not been his forte. Neither has been hitting uthe hole in short yardage situations. He puts the ball on the ground far too much.
But Blount is a unique player. He’s a running, leaping battering ram that becomes more effective as the game goes on. He’s perfect for a team that wants to wear a defense down. Last season, his yards per carry average spiked with the number of carries he received from 1-10, 11-20, and 21-30, and also increased steadily from first to fourth quarters. His yards per carry average was north of five in 2010 from 11-20 carries.
So now, he has a talented guy behind him in Martin to push him should he slip up, and that “C” word (competition) is something that every player needs.
And that’s really where we should look at Martin right now – as a competitor in the backfield.
Predicting him to start, and start early, is not a stretch of the imagination given his first round selection and his versatility. That said, he’s a rookie, and as the Bucs learned last year, leaning too heavily on rookies is not necessarily the best formula for success.
Rookie running backs, even outstanding ones, can take a bit of time to pick up blocking schemes, get used to the speed of the NFL game, and become highly productive players. Ray Rice, to whom Martin has drawn some comparisons, was third fiddle on a 2008 Ravens offense to Willis McGahee and first team All-Pro LeRon McClain his rookie season. Rice ended up rising to the top in the Ravens’ offense the next year, but not immediately. Arian Foster saw limited work his rookie year before exploding onto the scene in year number two.
That’s not to say a rookie running back can’t make a splash out of the gate per se. Look at Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson. But those are home run hitters who also happened to be on rosters that gave them a lot of early opportunities.
With rotations like Jonathan Stewart/DeAngelo Williams, Arian Foster/Ben Tate, Pierre Thomas/Mark Ingram/Chris Ivory/Darren Sproles, and the former two-time Super Bowl-winning dynamic duo of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, the multi-headed backfield is alive and well in the NFL. That’s really where Martin should be early on – in a rotation with Blount….and maybe even seventh-round speedster Michael Smith. With Blount running over tired defenders in the fourth quarter.
Could Martin earn more third down looks than Blount early on? Sure.
However, let’s leave the three-down back talk until a later time.