TAMPA – Doug Martin was, in a word, magnificent last Sunday afternoon. The one-time star of the Boise State University Broncos, is now making a pitch to be the best runningback in the NFL.
Now, let’s not be silly here. The 23-year-old back from Oakland who is known as “The Muscle Hamster,” has a long way to go before he’s mentioned in the same sentence with Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch Ray Rice, Arian Foster or Frank Gore.
However, to his credit, Martin is playing like a man who intends to be talked about at some point – this year or next — with the same reverence as Peterson, Lynch, Rice, Foster and Gore. And this Sunday, when his Tampa Bay Buccaneers play host to the San Diego Chargers he’ll get another chance to boost his growing reputation.
In his last two games, he’s been sensational. On Oct. 25, a Thursday night in the Twin Cities, The Muscle Hamster rushed for 135 yards and a touchdown. He also caught three passes for 79 yards and another TD in a 36-17 win over the Vikings. That was the game that ended any legitimate hopes the Vikings might have had of qualifying for the payoffs and it also set the Buccaneers on a path that just might get them to the post-season.
A week later, on Nov. 4, in his hometown, Martin rushed for 251 yards and tied the NFL record for rushing touchdowns in a half with four. It was a truly remarkable performance and it gave the Bucs a 42-32 road win against the Raiders.
During that game, Martin became the first player in NFL history to score on touchdown runs of 70-plus, 45-plus, and 65-plus yards in a game, and was the second player in league history to run for 250-plus yards and four touchdowns in a game. Martin also broke the Bucs franchise records for rushing yardage and touchdowns in a game.
Two games do not make a career, but for The Muscle Hamster, the only thing he has to do now is stay healthy. If he does, the simple act of actually having an NFL career will be guaranteed and there is a lot to say for that.
Martin was selected with the 31st pick of the 2012 NFL entry draft and barely five weeks after his selection, he signed a five-year deal with the Bucs. He won the starting job in training camp and as a result of his outstanding play this season, people in Tampa have finally remembered players such as James Wilder, Mike Alstott, Warrick Dunn, Cadillac Williams and Ricky Bell. They’ve remembered them because they went back into the Bucs record book to see who had the records before The Muscle Hamster broke them.
So how does he do it? Why is Doug Martin suddenly the hottest runner in football?
“There’s a lot of stuff happening all in a split second,” Martin rold my buddy Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune. “The biggest thing you have to do, though, is remain disciplined. You have to stay on your track.
“That’s how you get the defenders to believe you’re going to stay on that track and then if you need to make a cut, you cut off the block you’re getting and that’s what sets you up for those big plays.
“The thing is, the hole is only so wide. I have to trust the play and trust my blockers. All the good backs I’ve ever watched, they kind of pop their feet for a second if the hole isn’t there and then they burst. It’s that feeling I get at the line. I know the hole will be there. I just have to trust the fact that the blocking will develop and then, when I see the hole, I just burst into it. The second I see the hole, I hit it. It’s vision and I’ve always had it.”
He’s not a big man, but he is strong and very fast. He’s 5-foot-9, 215 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in just under 4.5 seconds.
He is currently third in rushing in the NFL behind Peterson (957 yards) and Lynch (881). He’s carried the football 154 times in all eight Bucs games and is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He still hasn’t fumbled and has seven touchdowns. No fumbles is a huge plus on a team that simply can’t afford to turn over the football.
In the meantime, people around the NFL are taking notice.
“He is the second coming of Ray Rice,” said the NFL Network’s Willie McGinest recently.
“He’s a guy who gains strength during games (with) the more touches he gets,” said his coach Greg Schiano this week.
“He can play,” said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier after he shredded Minnesota’s defense.
People around the NFL have obviously taken notice of Doug Martin, but with eight games left, Schiano is worried about one thing. His 23-year-old super back has played four pre-season games and eight regular season games – the equivalent of one college football season. The last thing Schiano wants is to have Martin tire to the points of exhaustion – both mentally ad physically.
“I feel fine,” Martin said this week. “My body feels great. I just make sure I get the treatment I need on all my nicks and dings, the stuff you pick up with every game. I’ve done that. I take care of myself. I’ll be fine.”
And that’s something, most NFL defenses would rather not hear.