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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.

FAB 1. Can Martin Rescue The Bucs’ Running Game?

When two-time Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin returns to One Buccaneer Place on Monday morning – merely hours after a win against the New York Giants that will have the team at 2-1 thanks to a six-game home winning streak, or 1-2 should the Bucs lose – the fallout from his four-game suspension, dating back to the final game of last year, will be over.

Is Martin the only one to blame for his month-long absence from the team headquarters? He certainly is accountable for his own actions. For reasons only he truly knows, Martin delved into drugs last year to cope with his struggles and paid the price.

Yet Mother Nature is also to blame for Martin not returning until Monday, October 2 rather than Monday, September 25.

Hurricane Irma screwed Martin.

Martin’s suspension during the 2017 campaign was for three games – not three weeks. When the Bucs’ bye week was abruptly moved to Week 1 when Martin had already been banished from One Buccaneer Place per league rules. He lost some practice time that in hindsight he would have been eligible to participate in.

“That is tough,” said Bucs blocking tight end Luke Stocker. “It’s not necessarily that he got an extra week of his suspension tacked on. He just lost a week of football practice, really. During the bye week he should have been able to practice with us and then leave to serve the suspension, but it was one of those acts of God things where you can’t do anything about it because the decision [to move the Miami game to Week 11] came late. I know he’s been working and staying ready. We’ll be excited when he comes back.”

Not only did Martin get screwed with a four-week suspension due to the sudden Week 1 bye instead of one lasting three weeks, he returns on a very short week with the New England Patriots coming to town next Thursday for a nationally televised game.

Bucs RB Doug Martin - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Getty Images

“It is unfair, but there’s nothing that he can do about it,” said Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith. “I’m sure Doug is doing well. He’s missed in the locker room, and certainly on the field as well. When we get him back next week it will be fun. He’s going to be Doug when he gets back. Doug is going to be Doug for us.”

Martin wasn’t missed too much in the Bucs’ 2017 season opener when Tampa Bay rushed for 117 yards on 34 carries (3.4 avg.) in a convincing 29-7 home win against Chicago. Jacquizz Rodgers, the Bucs’ leading rusher last year, led the way with 67 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries (3.5 avg.). Backup running back Peyton Barber added 47 yards on 10 carries (4.7 avg.).

But Martin was sorely missed last week in a 34-17 loss at Minnesota that saw the Bucs rush for just 26 yards on only nine carries – the fewest rushing attempts in any game in Tampa Bay history. Rodgers was held to 15 yards on five carries and Barber didn’t get a carry.

“We know Doug and he’s working hard keeping himself in shape,” said Tampa Bay right tackle Demar Dotson. “We miss Doug. He’s part of us. We can’t wait to get him back.

“Without him, we’re just doing what we’ve got to do. We know he’s going to help this football team get better when he gets back. I can’t wait to see him. I know he’s going to come back hungry and with a determination to help this football team.”

Bucs RB Doug Martin - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Getty Images

As I’m writing this column for Friday, September 28, I have no idea if the Bucs will be able to get their ground game back on track against the New York Giants on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. Statistically speaking, Tampa Bay should be able to run the ball at will against New York, which has the league’s worst run defense in the league, allowing 153.3 yards per game.

Yet the Bucs’ rushing attack only ranks 26th in the league, averaging 71.5 yards per game. With one decent rushing performance and one lousy one, it’s too early to draw any real conclusions about how good or bad Tampa Bay’s ground game will be this season.

And Martin’s return against the Patriots on Thursday night will add a whole other dimension to the running game, as he’s clearly the Bucs’ most talented runner.

“The good thing is that he’ll be super fresh,” Stocker said. “They’ll limit his reps in practice next week. Doug is a special type of player. I’m sure that when he comes back he’s going to provide a spark like only he can do just like any other of our top players would. We’re excited to get him back.”

“I don’t know how many snaps he’s going to have,” Dotson said. “I’m sure Coach [Dirk] Koetter is going to have a plan for him. They’re going to take care of him and work him back in. I’m sure he’ll get a few reps and then a little break to get back into the swing of things, and then we’ll get ready for Arizona.”

Bucs QB Jameis Winston and RB Doug Martin - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs QB Jameis Winston and RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

How rusty will Martin be when he returns? When he takes the field against the Patriots on Thursday night it will have been nearly five weeks since he last suited up to play the Cleveland Browns in the third preseason game on August 26.

“He hasn’t forgotten how to run the ball,” Smith said. “He’ll be ready.”

Martin, who will turn 29 in January, needs to come back as the 1,400-yard Martin he was in 2012 and ’15 in order for the Bucs to make a serious playoff push – not the Martin that has rushed for less than 500 yards during his other three years. If Martin doesn’t return to Pro Bowl form and Rodgers struggles against the Giants the Bucs could quickly turn into the league’s most disappointing team at the start of the season.

“When he comes back we know he’s going to help this football team because we need him,” Dotson said. “We need him to get where we need to go.”

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  1. If we try to control the Giants game with the run then we are in very serious trouble of getting behind quickly. This is the game we need to throw, throw, throw. Thursday we can run to keep Brady off the field. Go Bucs! Coaches, please make adjustments quicker!

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    • “Throw, throw, throw “is a recipe for Jameis tossing lots of passes to the other team, thus putting our defense in the hole, and tuckering out an already depleted defense by the second half.

      Run/Pass/Run, or an even mix of running and passing is the only way to thrive.

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      • I’d agree with you Naples, we need to run the ball effectively in this game to win. We need it for Jameis and play action, but to keep our defense off of the field.

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  2. Way too much panic here over the running game. We didn’t run the ball in one game because our defense was completely decimated by injury and let us get behind early, so we only ran it 8 times, which is pretty ridiculous.

    I’m going out on a limb here, sure to draw some hate from pass happy fans, but just because you’re behind in the score due to poor defense, the answer isn’t to pass 100% of the time. Particularly through the first three quarters. The reasons are obvious:

    1) It’s making the opposing defense’s job way too easy going one dimensional early in the game .. you are guaranteeing the D will pin their ears back and play pass defense all day long, which is self defeating.

    2) Jameis – he throws INTs when he throws too often and when he throws when playing from behind. That’s just how he is, at least so far in his NFL career.

    Listen, if we’re behind 28-3 in the fourth quarter, sure, you have to pass every down, virtually, just to preserve the clock. But running only 8 times the entire game, and that trend starting in the first quarter? Nope, that’s not productive.

    Yet, this is what NFL coaches do most of the time, Koetter is no different. Maybe this is a teachable moment not just for the offensive players, but for the offensive play caller.

    When your defense is letting the other guys score, the most important thing to do is run the ball well, which consumes game clock, keeps your quarterback from doing stupid stuff, and as long as you keep making first downs, it keeps the other guy’s offense off the field, which is a tremendous help to a rickety defense.

    If Jacquizz can’t get it done, then switch to Payton and see what he can do. DON’T give up on the run in the first half, it will only compound the problems of a leaky defense and a passing offense that turns it over too often.

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  3. The Bucs run game will be better when Doug Martin returns. We have to make secondaries respect the run and not play back and double cover our WRs. The Bucs cannot win with a pass first offense. Pretty sure everybody saw how Green Bay used the run and the short pass game to defeat Chicago last night. Dirk Koetter could take a page out of that book and our budding QB could use that relief.

    Unfortunate situation, but it is what it is now. Doug will play at the top of his game when he returns, play for the Bucs next year in a marginal role on a different contract, or play for another team. Let’s hope it works out for him and the Bucs.

    But fear not if worse comes to worse, next year’s draft is loaded with RB talent. If the Bucs play well from this point on as I expect, Saquon Barkley/Penn State and Derrious Guice/LSU will be long gone. But keep an eye on later round RBs like Akrum Barkley/Iowa, Bryce Love/Stanford, and Kalen Ballage/Arizona State.

    One way or another the Bucs will get this fixed. Go Bucs!

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    • Sorry, meant to say Akrum Wadley/Iowa.

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  4. “Aside from the famous names like Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, LSU’s Derrius Guice, Georgia’s Nick Chubb, Oregon’s Royce Freeman and USC’s Ronald Jones II, keep an eye on some unheralded prospects, such as Iowa’s Akrum Wadley, Stanford’s Bryce Love, the heir apparent to Christian McCaffrey, and San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, the heir apparent to Donnell Pumphrey.”

    You need to add Tennessee’s John Kelly to this list. His combination of speed/balance/power is truly impressive, and since he sat behind Kamara and Hurd all of last year, he’s going to be undervalued in the draft and a mid round steal by whoever gets him.

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    • Good call Hank, and Great Clip!

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  5. Doug is the most talented back on the roster. That’s not debatable. He looked good in camp and preseason games. If he can even get close to 1,000 yards, we’ll be in good shape with Quizz & Barber providing needed rest/change of pace. Maybe he comes back at a Pro Bowl level. Maybe he doesn’t. Either way RB will be a top priority next draft.

    Maybe Licht thought he was getting a steal in McNichols and expected him to push Doug out. But the whole offseason strategy with Doug has been odd. Drug suspension voided his guaranteed money & I believe his dead cap hit. If they didn’t believe in him, (which they had ample reason not to) just cut him, draft a RB high and go about the offseason without question marks.

    We needed WR depth in case of injury, (see last season) so I’m fine with Godwin. He had a much better game on Sunday than he did against the Bears. Excited about him. The Evans pick is debatable, as we already had signed Wilcox in FA. We could have gone DE (needed) CB (needed) or RB in the second round. I do think Evans will be a nice player, but as Scott said, he’s not gonna help much on a win now team.

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  6. You should not be allowed to lump Brady and Eli manning into any category. There is nothing Great about Eli Manning.

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  7. Eli is a shell of his old self. His career statistics are not that great. His reputation was made on the two Super Bowl wins. That being said, Buccaneers are too banged up to win this one. I want to be wrong, but I see a final score of 28-24 Giants. As for the running game, hey, we are in Game 3. The offensive line looks better than last year to me. They will take time to gel. I’m looking at a 1-3 start offset by six wins a row. Hang in there fans. We’ve had some bad luck, but in three weeks we should have a healthier lineup and a more favorable schedule.

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    • Eli is definitely on the downside of his career. He’s a statue behind a terrible OL. He doesn’t handle pressure well anymore & he’s missing reads consistently. Luckily the injury report is better than last week. Grimes, Baker, Spence, GMC, Ayers all practiced & will play on Sunday. I agree the OL looks better, but Smith has still let in 10 pressures through 2 games. He has to get better in protecting Winston’s blind side. Hopefully the run game rebounds.

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  8. I’m not gunna criticize Licht too much, since he’s the pro and obviously has more knowledge than I do.
    But I will say that my motto has been that we should take at LEAST one offensive or defensive lineman with one of our first three picks every year. I think those are the two most important groups to have depth for. Other than having an elite QB I think the fastest path to playoff team is having an above average o-line and d-line and being able to win in the trenches on a consistent basis. And this will obviously help our run and PA game if we are controlling the line of scrimmage.

    I am hoping for D Smith to turn a corner this year and be our LT of the future. Whether he does or doesn’t I hope we take a tackle this year in the first three rounds just to build more depth. We all remember what happened in the Dallas game last year when Dotson when down.

    On a side note. I hope we draft the tackle out of UW, Trey Adams next year. I think he will be able to compete with Smith and eventually take over for Dotson when the time comes.

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  9. Maybe the BUCS should read PR. Did you not call for drafting Kamara?
    Go Bucs

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