“We talked about being able to establish the run. Doug will be the lead guy doing that, so it’s very important that we open up some holes and let him do his thing.” – Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith
Let’s get this out of the way right now. Doug Martin is The Dougernaut. He’s not the Muscle Hamster. He’s not the Swole Gerbil. He’s not any of those things. He’s The Dougernaut, bitch. At least, he was. The problem is that he hasn’t consistently played like The Dougernaut since 2012. There were flashes of brilliance over the last two seasons, but nothing close to his potential.
While it’s hard to argue with the numbers, or lack thereof, that Martin produced in the last two seasons, it’s just as difficult to shovel all of the blame onto him. Two years of injuries and horrendous offensive line play have done him no favors. The consensus in training camp is that Martin looks to be healthy, and in potentially the best shape of his career. When he’s had the opportunity to consistently run the ball, Martin has almost always performed. If he can stay healthy, he’s halfway to a redeeming season.
Unfortunately, the other half remains an enormous question mark. Last season, Dallas Cowboys Running Back Demarco Murray blazed past records as if he wasn’t even trying. Murray produced over 100 yards in 12 games and finished as the league’s leading rusher. It could be argued that the Cowboys were carried to the playoffs by Murray, but I’d argue that Murray’s success would never have happened without an excellent offensive line.
In three out of the last four years, the Cowboys have drafted an offensive lineman in the first round. I’m not saying the Buccaneers should have done this the last three years, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Murray never had to worry about the line hindering him or failing to create lanes. All he had to do was use what they gave him. Doug Martin hasn’t had that luxury since 2012, but there may be hope yet.
Last season I told a close friend that the Buccaneers could make the playoffs if the offensive line held. It was a bold condition, even if I made the prediction before the loss of Carl Nicks and the Jeff Tedford Incident. This year, Doug Martin’s production could hinge on the exact same condition. They don’t have to do the work for him, but they do have to avoid getting in his way.
Until we see proof on the field, it’s hard to say whether or not we’ll ever truly see The Dougernaut again. Bobby Rainey has got to be chomping at the bits once again, and Charles Sims is poised to take over in a pass-catching role. If you can step far enough back to see past the nightmares of the last two years, you can tell that all the pieces are in place. In 2015, something will come crashing down around Doug Martin. Will it be the hopes of Bucs fans? Or will The Dougernaut rise again among the ashes of opposing defenses?