Doug Martin hoping for Comeback Season in 2015

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Oakland RaidersThree years ago, Doug Martin burst on to the NFL scene with an incredible rookie season that saw him tally 1,454 rushing yards, 472 receiving yards and 12 total touchdowns. The bar has been set high ever since, but unfortunately, injuries have prevented Martin from reaching the lofty numbers of his first season. But in just a few weeks, the 2015 NFL season begins and “Muscle Hamster” gets another chance to show that he can reclaim the glory from his first year.

It seems like a tough task, considering that ankle and shoulder injuries have slowed Martin down to just 950 total yards over the past two seasons. And when he could be on the field, the 26-year-old often split time with less-heralded players. But again, this is a fresh season, and there’ll be new faces leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and head coach Lovie Smith.

Martin has taken this time to reinvent himself by shedding some weight and coming into training camp leaner. He’s been able to show off the results in practice, looking faster and more agile than ever since he’s been in the pros. And if Martin needs any extra motivation to play his best, he’ll get it in fact that the Buccaneers didn’t pick up his fifth-year option. This means that he can either play his way into a better contract with the team, or get himself a nice deal with a new squad.

Doug Martin,  D.J. WareBut the need for improvement goes far beyond just Martin. Tampa Bay hasn’t had a winning record in five years, and they’ve failed to reach five wins in three out of the past four seasons. Last year was particularly bad as the Bucs limped to a 2-14 record. So is there any reason to believe that they can spark a turnaround in 2015?

“The sky is the limit,” says Martin. “We have a lot of potential going into this year with this team. We have a lot of weapons and a lot of guys with fire in them that want to be successful. I just can’t wait to get out there with them.”

He’s certainly right about the weapons, given that Tampa Bay potentially has talent at every offensive position. Top-overall pick Jameis Winston headlines this group and he’ll be looking to lead the Bucs to a winning record in his first year. Wideouts include Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, who are capable of forming a fierce 1-2 receiving duo. And Martin, Charles Sims and Bobby Rainey will lead what could be a very good running back trio. Of course, if Martin pays anything like his rookie season, this could become a one-man show.

“It’s an important year for Doug and for our football team to establish the run game and Doug’s our starting tailback,” Smith said. “We talk about the commitment to the run. He’s done it before. There’s no reason he can’t do it again.”

If camp and OTAs are any indication, Martin is up to the task of having a great year. But much of this will hinge on the offensive line, which is mostly comprised of new players.

What Impact will Josh Freeman have on the Minnesota Vikings?

josh-freeman-minnesota-vikingsEver since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released him last week, Josh Freeman had been a hot commodity among teams seeking a reliable quarterback. Maybe “reliable” isn’t the word here, given how tumultuous Freeman’s last days in Tampa Bay ended. But several desperate NFL clubs were willing to take a chance on him if it means salvaging their season.

The Minnesota Vikings proved to be the most attractive destination since Freeman signed with them today. The deal is a one-year, $3 million contract, with the 25-year-old reportedly wanting to only sign for one season instead of two. He picked Minnesota over the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers.

The obvious thought that comes to mind here is how the Vikings quarterback situation will play out. Coming off of a rib injury, Christian Ponder is the incumbent starter and the supposed QB of the future. But since being taken with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Florida State product has never been truly impressive. 2013 has been especially bad since he’s thrown for 691 yards, 2 TD’s, 5 INT”s, and fumbled twice in three starts.

Matt Cassel is the other option, and he led the Vikings to their first win of the year just before Minnesota’s bye week. He racked up 248 yards and 2 touchdowns after completing 16-of-25 passes. Most importantly, he didn’t have any turnovers, which is something that’s plagued Ponder.

josh-freeman-tampa-bayEnter Freeman, who compiled very good numbers with the Buccaneers in the first four years of his career. He had 12,090 yards, 76 TD’s, 54 INT’s and a 59.1 completion percentage. But as mentioned before, things fell apart since he missed important team functions and didn’t get along with second-year head coach Greg Schiano. One week after losing his starting job to rookie Mike Glennon, Freeman was cut loose by the Bucs.

Now in Minnesota, Freeman doesn’t figure to start right away. Head coach Leslie Frazier has already said that either Ponder or Cassel will start against the Carolina Panthers. But the Vikings certainly aren’t paying Freeman $3 million for three-quarters of a season to be a bench warmer. He’s been brought in to compete for the starting job and take over if Ponder continues to falter.

Frazier even hinted at this by saying, “That’s part of the equation. That’s definitely on the table. We’ll see how well he progresses and how well he picks up our offense.”

However, he also alluded to the fact that Ponder still has an opportunity to retain the job. “I think Christian still has a bright future here with our football team,” he said. “It may not look like that on the surface, but Christian is a professional. He’s going to work as hard as he can every day to prepare and get back on the field and help our team win.”

As mentioned before, Ponder is/was supposed to be the future of this franchise. But with a talent like Adrian Peterson, Minnesota isn’t content to wait another year or two for him to catch on. The team is in a win-now mode since they arguably have the league’s most talented running back.

josh-freeman-minnesota-vikings-1Seeing as how Peterson is 28 years old, he doesn’t have a lot of prime years left. So this essentially becomes a question of whether or not the Vikings are willing to risk Peterson’s golden years on a chance that Ponder might turn things around. With Freeman now in town, odds are that Minnesota is, instead, betting on the guy who rushed for over 2,000 yards last season.

So now we come to the question of what Freeman can do for the Vikings. With a 1-3 record, this team is already in the hole. And things won’t get any easier since they’re in an extremely tough division which includes Detroit, Green Bay and Chicago.

But Freeman at least provides a slightly better opportunity to win now than Ponder does. Sure the Vikings aren’t getting Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees here; but they are getting a five-year veteran who has good arm strength and can put up decent numbers.

Now the big question will be if he can take advantage of having a threat like Peterson in the offense. Opponents constantly have to be aware of number 28 at all times. So this will take some of the pressure off Freeman, perhaps even more so than what Doug Martin did in Tampa Bay.

It’s still early enough in the year for Minnesota to make a turnaround. They are 1.5 games out of the NFC North lead and still have plenty of contests left against their division foes. But Freeman is going to have to play better than ever before to help the Vikings make a playoff run.