The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been more than a little unclear about their plans at the running back position, and they didn't get any clearer when Lovie Smith was asked about Doug Martin and the failure to pick up his fifth-year option yesterday.
"As a player, I mean there is a business part off the field and then when it's time to work on the field, you do that," Lovie Smith said yesterday. "The business part, I can't get into that, but we like Doug. He's on the first team like he has always been. He's one of our guys, he's our running back. He's showing up and he is getting good work. I think it is just as simple as that."
The Bucs keep pretending that Doug Martin is their guy, but we know otherwise. They reportedly entertained the idea of signing DeMarco Murray this offseason, have been repeatedly linked with Adrian Peterson and the decision not to pick up Martin's fifth-year option is not just a business decision: it tells you that they don't think he's worth keeping at $5 million for a single year, at least not the way he's been producing lately.
That makes this year his last chance to show that he can still be a lead back in the NFL. He hasn't shown it the past two years. Yes, he played behind a really bad offensive line, but if you watch the tape it's obvious that there were more issues there than just the line. His vision declined, he lost patience behind the line, and he couldn't make anyone miss anymore.
There's one minor upside here: Doug Martin looked a little more like the Muscle Hamster at the end of last season. Not to the point where he can carry the load, but enough where you'd think that he can at least be a valuable part of the rotation. Which is exactly what we're going to get this year.
"[Charles Sims] is a complement to some of our other running backs," Lovie Smith said yesterday. "He can make you miss in the open field. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. Right now, we are working a lot of different combinations. We don't really have a depth chart per say. We just want the players we think can play, we want them to get reps and show us exactly how they stack-up on the depth chart. And what role we will have for them this season. Believe me, I can say right now Charles will have a big role for us."
If I had to guess, Doug Martin will get most of the first- and second-down carries, possibly split with Bobby Rainey. Charles Sims will get most or even all of the third-down work, and some of the leftover carries. And short-yardage work might go to Joey Iosefa, if he manages to stick on the roster, or Mike James -- but the coaching staff really doesn't seem to like James very much.
One other player to keep an eye on is undrafted rookie Dominique Brown. According to Pewter Report, Brown's been impressing in training camp and the Bucs told him that he could win a roster spot, and he's been impressing the Bucs in OTAs so far.