Huddle Up: Doug Martin's potential impact in Tampa Bay
Throughout the NFL's lengthy offseason, "Huddle Up" will provide you with a quick take on an important story or development from around the league ...
The fact that Doug Martin signed a five-year deal with Tampa Bay on Monday was not necessarily huge news -- the new slotting system for paying draft picks has made it easier to get guys under contract. But getting Martin inked now gives the Buccaneers a clear path to one of their big goals this offseason: Turning their first-round pick into a focal point on offense.
Tampa Bay jumped up to No. 31 in April's draft to nab Martin, giving up second- and fourth-round picks in the process. That's not a move you'd undertake for a project pick. New head coach Greg Schiano clearly coveted Martin as an impact player.
The reasoning behind it was obvious: Schiano wants the run game to be a huge component of Tampa Bay's offensive attack, and the team did not have the type of depth at running back to implement that.
The incumbent at that position, LeGarrette Blount, managed just 781 yards in 14 games last season, and he frequently appeared indecisive with the ball in his hands. Tampa Bay's only experienced returning runner behind Blount was Mossis Madu, who had all of 15 carries last season.
Enter Martin. Worst-case scenario, he'll provide an option to spell Blount in the backfield; best-case, he takes the No. 1 job and ... well ... runs with it.
"He and LeGarrette can really be a great team," Schiano said last month after Round 1 of the draft wrapped up. "In this league, I don't think you can do it with one back, you need two.
"(Martin) is a three-down back, he can pass-protect, he can catch the football. He can do it all."
Even a little production would be very welcome in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers finished dead last in the league in rushing attempts last year (346) under Raheem Morris and 30th in yards on the ground (1,458). The lack of a ground game put a ton of pressure on third-year QB Josh Freeman, whose rating dropped from 95.9 in 2010 to 74.6 last season.
Schiano will try to balance things out, and having a potential 1-2 punch in Blount and Martin should help. An added bonus is that Martin's presence sends a definite message to Blount that he must step up his game -- and he has responded well this offseason, dropping 10 pounds from the bulky and slow 257-pound frame that he carried last season.
"I kind of had an idea they were going to draft another (running back) so I came back in the best shape possible,'' Blount said in May, according to tbo.com. "(The job is mine) until they take it away."
As Schiano said, though, the idea isn't to take Blount's role away so much as it is to pair him up with Martin. Very few teams in the NFL rely on just one back -- guys like Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner, Marshawn Lynch and LeSean McCoy who get 280-plus carries a season are increasingly the exception, rather than the rule.
It's possible that even with Martin's arrival, Blount could wind up close to the 184 carries he had last season. That number worked out to just 13.1 carries over Blount's 14 games. If Schiano has his way, and the Buccaneers can pound the ball 25-30 times per week, a similar workload for Blount would still leave double-digit carries plus passing-down work for Martin. By all accounts, Schiano does not want to move on from Blount (nor should he, given the 25-year-old back's potential). Drafting Martin simply adds a lot more pop to the Buccaneers' backfield, something that the team desperately needed.