The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking to bounce back in a big way after a surprisingly porous 2011 season under former head coach Raheem Morris. The franchise is now going in a new direction with the leadership of Greg Schiano, who comes from the college ranks and is looking to establish a “Buccaneer way“.
In one of his first moves, Schiano called out running back LeGarrette Blount for his errant ways, which Morris never seemed to do. He also teamed up with general manager Mark Dominik to help acquire Boise State ball carrier Doug Martin by moving back into the first round, which immediately created a competition at the running back position.
That competition is an important one because Schiano likes to run the ball. He’s well known for his ball control offense that he and his coaches ran at Rutgers University, which means he’ll rely heavily on the running back position. Of course, the big question in this competition is simple: who is the better ball carrier?
We’ll start our analysis with Blount, who has been the Bucs’ primary running back the last two seasons, and has had good and bad times since taking over the job. On the positive side of things, he’s shown good vision while approaching the line of scrimmage. He also has an eye for cutback lanes, and he’s shown the ability to quickly get downhill by planting his foot in the ground. Moreover, he’s ran with power, which allows him to move piles by constantly churning his feet, a bit surprising considering his high pad level at the point of contact at times.
On the other hand, he hasn’t exactly been a model citizen as he’s constantly been fined for his inability to get to team meetings in a timely manner, implying that sometimes he just doesn’t seem to give a shit. The team has also been uncertain about his pass protection abilities, which have long been lacking, and consequently, his hands haven’t been on display. He doesn’t necessarily have bad hands, although that seems to be the greatest criticism thrown in his direction. He hasn’t been on the field on third down enough because of his inability to block, which has hurt his pass catching opportunities. Not to mention, there’s the issue of ball security: he’s fumbled nine times in two seasons (5 in 2011), six of which have been lost.
All of these issues have led to a reduction in snaps for Blount, which is not what you need from a ball carrier despite the league trending towards a running back by committee approach.
Meanwhile, Martin — or the “muscle hamster” as he was called at Boise — was one of the better RBs in the 2012 NFL Draft. Martin stands at slightly more than 5’9″, and he’s a well built 223 pounds.
His size is one of his strengths because it gives him a natural low center of gravity — something that Blount doesn’t have at more than six feet tall. Martin has good agility and balance, allowing him to make defenders miss in open space, and good hands. He’s very decisive as a runner, quickly planting his foot in the ground and hitting the hole.
He has good vision, as he’s able to identify running lanes, and he’s better in the open field than when he’s approaching the line of scrimmage, but that’s not a knock on him. One particular aspect of Martin’s game that I liked when watching him at Boise State was his patience as he allowed blocks to develop, and he always fell forward after contact. This wasn’t always mentioned when during discussions about his skillset, but it’s long stood out and I expect that to continue this season.
When it comes to pass catching and blocking, it can be said that Martin is superior to Blount in this area. Martin has soft hands and can adjust to passes well.
To be clear, most running backs making the transition from college to the NFL have issues in pass protection because they simply don’t do a whole lot of it in college. However, it is apparent while watching them that some will develop into good blockers while others won’t. Based off of Martin’s collegiate games, it’s more likely that he falls in the former category and not the latter because he’s is willing, strong, and tough. Besides technique, these are the vitals of blocking in my opinion.
Like other players, Martin has his weaknesses. There aren’t many because he’s a well-rounded player, but there’s one that specifically worth noting: short-yardage running. Martin doesn’t always drop his pads and plow forward in short yardage situations, instead sometimes preferring to bounce it to the outside. It’s an area where he needs to improve, and I expect him to as he develops.
Despite the weakness, I think he’ll be the starting running back in Tampa this season. He’ll split carries with Blount as long as the third-year back doesn’t get himself kicked off the team because of his character. But powered by his sheer talent, Martin will likely emerge as the primary option in Tampa because of his hard work and overall talent.