Three 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.
But 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.