Jenna Laine, ESPN Staff Writer 353d

Bucs teammates happy to have Doug Martin back after suspension

TAMPA, Fla. -- He was playing pingpong. There were plenty of hugs -- from fellow running backs Charles Sims and Gerald McCoy. At one point, he started to dance, making Sims laugh. That's the Doug Martin that Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates have known and loved.

He'd been gone for three games, serving a suspension for performance-enhancing substances. They welcomed him back with open arms, just as they did after he returned from a stint in a drug rehabilitation program this spring.

"I'm happy to have Doug back," said quarterback Jameis Winston. "I've been texting him after games just to tell him, 'One more, one more. Hey Doug, you're going to be back this week.' We're going to be happy to see No. 22 running around."

His meeting room of running backs now feels complete again. Their row along the back wall of the locker room at One Buccaneer Place is a little more lively. There's more pep.

"His personality... he just brings life. We've missed Doug," Sims said. "Doug is silly, man. We're all happy."

Added running back Peyton Barber: "Doug is always a good time. Doug brings a little bit of everything -- energy, Doug is funny, smart -- just everything. He's knowledgeable, he can be physical when you need him to, he can do anything."

Barber and several teammates helped keep Martin in the loop with group chats, while Martin watched every one of their games out in California, where he was training. He purposely went through harder workouts on Sundays to keep his body on the NFL schedule. Then, he'd go to a restaurant with his family so he could watch his other family -- his Buccaneers family -- play.

"It was weird. It was different," said Martin, who admitted that Sunday's last-second 25-23 win over the New York Giants was especially nerve-wracking. "As I am watching my heart is going and things like that. But I’m glad that I’m back now.

"I love these guys and these guys love me," Martin said. "I know that [when] I wasn’t here, I know they were thinking of me and they can’t wait for me to get back here. Now I’m back and I’m going to play for these guys.”

The feeling is mutual. And they've played hard for him.

"It's a family here. We really do care about each other in this locker room," said guard Evan Smith. "Doug is a big part of [it]. He's a big part of the team. It's Doug. We all love Doug."

"We like Doug the person, too," Smith said. "It's not like, 'Oh, we just want Doug the running back.' We love Doug the person. He just brings a new energy to the team. When you watch him practice, he practices and plays hard. Everybody feeds off his energy."

The Bucs could have cut Martin last spring. They were under no obligation to pay him since a PED suspension is considered "conduct detrimental to the team." Instead, the organization chose to stick by him.

It only reinforced what left tackle Donovan Smith always felt.

"I believe in second chances," Smith said. "One moment doesn't define someone's life or who they are as a person or anything like that. It's just a testament to the brotherhood we have in this facility -- [from] all the way up top, to the equipment room, the training room, the weight room, everything.

"Any time you go through anything in life like family does, you're their support, backbone and everything," Smith said. "You're welcomed back with open arms."

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