TAMPA, Fla. – It’s easy to forget that Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin caught 49 passes as a rookie in 2012. It’s so easy that even the new coaching staff and front office came in not counting on Martin as a pass catcher.
“In the offseason, that was an area that we talked about,’’ coach Lovie Smith said Monday. “We went into the draft because we thought that was an area where we thought we needed a little bit of help.’’
The Bucs used a third-round pick to draft Charles Sims, who caught more than 200 passes in his college career. But Sims isn’t going to be contributing right away. He suffered an ankle injury last week that’s going to keep him out for 12 to 14 weeks.
Along the way, though, the Bucs might have found a running back they’re comfortable with as a pass catcher. That’s Martin. Smith admitted that part of Martin’s game has been better than expected.
“From watching practice, you’ve seen Doug has caught the ball a lot better,’’ Smith said. “As I’ve said all along, Doug is a good football player.’’
Martin takes pride in his ability to catch the ball, and he has put in extra work in that area this preseason.
“Every day at practice during special teams, I had an assistant coach throw me balls and go through different situations and I’ve done a good job catching the ball,’’ Martin said.
Catching the ball is an important role for running backs in coordinator Jeff Tedford’s offense. Martin said he got a scouting report on Tedford’s offense soon after the coordinator was hired. That came from New England running back Shane Vereen, who played for Tedford at the University of California. Vereen told Martin he would enjoy Tedford’s offense and Martin said that has turned out to be true.
“That’s another reason why I like Jeff Tedford’s play book because it has the running back running all types of routes out of the backfield,’’ Martin said. “It’s definitely going to help me as a player at my position and what I do. You have to be a versatile running back in the league. You can’t just run the ball. You have to be able to run the ball, pass block and catch the ball out of the backfield.’’
Martin’s work as a pass catcher may have come as a pleasant surprise to Smith. But Martin, who rushed for 1,454 yards as a rookie and missed 10 games due to a shoulder injury last season, is going to be asked to do a lot more than catch passes.
“We’re going to ask him to catch the ball out of the backfield,’’ Smith said. “ But the first thing for our tailbacks is they need to get positive yards and make guys miss or run over guys in the open field. We’re a balanced offensive attack. We don’t get off the bus throwing the football. We need to get production from our running game. Of course, Doug’s our bell cow.’’