Buccaneers' offensive line focuses on rushing title for Doug Martin

TAMPA, Fla. -- With the goal of making it to the playoffs gone, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive line turns its focus on another mission: Help running back Doug Martin win the NFL rushing title.

Martin currently has 1,305 yards, nine fewer than the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson with two games to play.

"I think it would be great, especially for the offensive line," Bucs center Joe Hawley said Wednesday. "We don't have a lot of stats. That's one thing we can hang our hat on. That's real difficult to do. I know a lot of people [who play] for a long time would love to have that.

"It's good for Doug too," Hawley said. "He's been running his tail off. He's had a great year. Being out of the playoffs, it's really one of the only things we can make a positive out of the season."

Martin did not get a contract extension in the offseason, so he is playing in the final year of his rookie deal. After two injury-plagued sesaons, Martin was named to his second Pro Bowl on Tuesday. No Tampa Bay rusher has ever won the rushing title.

"I think it's important to our offensive line to help Doug Martin be the leading rusher in the league," coach Lovie Smith said. "It's important. It's always about the team goals at the end, but there's some individual things going on to be able to remember this season by."

Considering what the line has gone through this year, no one saw this coming. Tampa Bay started two rookies, left tackle Donovan Smith and right guard Ali Marpet, for most of the season. Two other starters, Hawley and right tackle Gosder Cherilus, came to the team late. Even with some injuries, the group managed to work together and eventually play well, especially in the run game.

"It would be an amazing experience not just because of the excitement for Doug but for the team," backup lineman Kevin Pamphile said. "After a rushing title people would look and say, 'Tampa Bay has a pretty solid offensive line.' It would be a huge boost of confidence for next year and years to come."

Martin's final two games will be against Chicago, which has the NFL's 26th-ranked run defense, and Carolina (sixth). Peterson will face the New York Giants (21st) and Green Bay (22nd).

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter understands how important a title would be for the line but said the team isn't going to give Martin an excessive number of carries per game just for the title. "Our goal, first and foremost, is to win the game," Koetter said. "That's by far the most important thing."

So if Martin is going to become the rushing champion, he's going to have to accomplish it in the framework of the offense.

"We were in a similar situation a few years back in Jacksonville with Maurice Jones-Drew," said Koetter, the Jaguars' offensive coordinator from 2007-11. "You can't deny that that's important to those guys. It's important to everybody involved with our running game. Heck, that goes down to the fullback, the wide receivers, the tight ends. It's second to winning the game, but it's there."