x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Tampa Bay rookie running back not short on big plays

Doug Martin is making a case for some post-season awards, writes Mike Tierney, as he reminds those around him of Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) has been playing a game of follow the leader and the rookie is the one at the front of the pack.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) has been playing a game of follow the leader and the rookie is the one at the front of the pack.

Hold off on filling out those Offensive Rookie of the Year ballots.

Voters who have toggled between Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III ought to weigh the candidacy of the short dude lurking in the background.

Even as the pair have displayed a mastery of quarterbacking that belies their inexperience, neither has made a statistical splash like running back Doug Martin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Selected near the back end of the draft's first round, Martin ranks third among rushers behind Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch.

And that picture is incomplete.

Add in pass catching and Martin jumps to the front of the line for combination yards by running backs.

After a creditable but highlight-limited start to his career, Martin announced his presence the past two Sundays with the volume turned up to 10-plus. He punctured the Minnesota Vikings for 135 ground and 79 aerial yards, scoring one touchdown by each means. That was mere prelude to a 251-yard, four-TD rushing day against the Oakland Raiders, seasoned with 21 receiving yards.

"It's really just kind of surreal," Martin said. "Over the first few games and the pre-season, it took me awhile to get comfortable with the offence and for the game to slow down."

He conjures up memories of a similarly sized back who earned the rookie award when Martin was a year old. From there, Emmitt Smith, 5ft 9 ins, only got better.

He became the foremost ground gainer ever, which has prompted Greg Schiano, the Buccaneers coach, to prematurely discourage comparisons.

But his description of Martin with ball in hand rings vaguely familiar to accounts of Smith.

"The hole is about that wide," said Schiano, putting his hands close together, "and Doug trusts the play and is patient.

"Good backs, when they run like that, they kind of pop their feet for a second if it isn't there ... and then they burst."

To secure Martin, Tampa Bay traded up from the second round, partly at the urging of Schiano, himself an NFL rookie coach.

Not everything is going Martin's way - he is unable shed a despised nickname as easily as he has tacklers.

In college, Martin involuntarily became known as the "Muscle Hamster", a reflection of his short stature and chiselled frame.

It has replaced other handles through the years, from "Bam Bam" to "Doug-Matt". He would prefer that something such as "Doug E Fresh", borrowed by quarterback Josh Freeman from the rapper of the same name, stick.

If the voters refrain from rushing to judgment, Martin might soon be know by something else: Offensive Rookie of the Year.



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