Doug Martin, the Buccaneers’ dynamic rookie back, has frequently been called a Ray Rice clone, and NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock referenced both Rice and the great Emmitt Smith in describing Martin’s game on Thursday. In terms of Buccaneer history, however, the player he must be reminding Tampa Bay fans of at this point is Warrick Dunn.
Physically, the Rice comparison is probably a better match. Martin is considerably thicker than Dunn and probably a more powerful runner, though Dunn was always underrated as a between-the-tackles presence. But it’s Martin’s impact in all phases of the offense that may have current Buc fans thinking of the Lightning half of the old Thunder and Lightning duo.
At the very least, Martin is putting up numbers that force us to reference Dunn’s first prolific five-year tenure in Tampa (he came back for a second stint with the Bucs in 2008). Last night, for example, Martin put up 214 combined rushing and receiving yards, the most by a Buccaneer back since…Warrick Dunn in 2000. Martin also became the first Buccaneer to score a touchdown both rushing and receiving in the same game since…Warrick Dunn in 2001.
Last week, WR Vincent Jackson actually had 216 combined yards, though they were all receiving. Counting just the big games put up by Tampa Bay running backs, here are the top five yards-from-scrimmage totals in franchise history:
|Player||Opp., Date||Yards (rush, rec.)|
|1. James Wilder||at MIN, 11/6/83||239 (219, 20)|
|2. Warrick Dunn||vs. DAL, 12/3/00||221 (210, 11)|
|3. James Wilder||vs. GB, 9/30/84||216 (172, 44)|
|4. Doug Martin||at MIN, 10/25/12||214 (135, 79)|
|5. James Wilder||vs. DET, 11/23/86||201 (130 rush, 71 rec.)|
After viewing that chart, one could definitely come in with a Wilder comparison instead, though they were two very different sorts of backs. The similarity is that, at his peak, Wilder was thoroughly involved in both the ground and air games, as was Dunn later, and as is Martin now. You might also notice that the top three entries on the list are games in which most of the yardage came on the ground. League publicist Randall Liu pointed out on Friday that Martin became the first NFL rookie in the last 25 years to have a game in which he ran for at least 135 yards and caught passes for at least 75 yards.
So maybe Martin is blazing his own trail that doesn’t require Dunn, Wilder or Rice comparisons. At the moment, he’s just riding the wave as he gets increasingly comfortable in Mike Sullivan’s offense.
“It comes with just getting into that rhythm and me being comfortable with the offense, just being in game situations,” he said. “It helps me to have the whole game slow down, and as a running back you need to be patient so the game will slow down and you can make the plays you need to make.”
Martin ran the ball a season-high 29 times on Thursday and through seven games is on pace to get 295 carries by season’s end. (He’s also on pace for 1,241 rushing yards and 1,753 combined yards, both of which would be new team rookie records.) On Friday, Head Coach Greg Schiano said that the Buccaneers were cognizant of a “pitch count” with Martin, not wanting to wear him down either in a single game or over the course of a season. However, Schiano also said that when Martin is clearly the hot hand, he’s going to get the football.
That was certainly the case Thursday night.
“I was definitely in the rhythm,” said Martin. “I just wanted to go out there and play Buc football and be the more physical team.”