Joe Vitt, the Saints’ acting head coach, wasn’t on the sideline for New Orleans’ Week Seven game in Tampa as he was finishing up his own suspension. But Vitt has obviously watched plenty of film on the Buccaneers’ offense in preparation for Sunday’s rematch, and he doesn’t need an in-person viewing to convince him that Doug Martin is one of the most complete rookie running back to hit the NFL in years.
“In my opinion he is,” said Vitt. “What can’t he do? I think he’s an excellent screen back. I think he has good hands. Listen, he plants his heels eight yards deep in the running game and he’s to the line of scrimmage as fast as anybody I’ve seen. He can make people miss. He drops his pads and gives you very little surface to tackle on. He splits defenders and when he splits the defenders now he’s back to top speed very, very quickly. This guy is a very, very impressive back.”
It’s not unusual for a rookie running back to make an instant impact (though it is unusual for one to threaten the 2,000-yards-from-scrimmage mark) in the NFL. However, some young backs are initially held back by their lack of proficiency as a pass-blocker. That has not been an issue for Martin, according to Vitt.
“I think one of the hidden stats on this kid is the way he is in protection,” said the Saints coach. “This kid does a great job in blitz protection, picking up linebackers and nailing them at the line of scrimmage. When you combine a back who’s smart, who’s tough, who has great vision and who combines that with power and speed, you’ve got something special.”
Vitt also knows that Martin’s running has driven the Buccaneers on their most successful afternoons this year, so one should expect the Saints’ defense to key on stopping him first. That will be easier said than done, however, because the rookie back doesn’t always go down just because there’s a defender in his way.
“In Tampa Bay’s wins this year, they’re averaging over 150 yards rushing the ball a game,” said Vitt. “The running back is doing an outstanding job. I said this to our football team this morning: I haven’t seen a back run over as many people as I’ve seen this back run over. He’s dropping linebackers and he’s dropping defensive linemen like third-period Latin. I mean, they’re going down.”