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Is Donovan Smith the weak link in the running game?

This film review certainly suggests he is.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Recently, football analysis guy Brett Kollmann put out a video on Doug Martin and why he’s a special back - provided the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ main runner is healthy.

Kollmann collaborated with Christopher Harris on the film breakdown. Harris does not like Martin as a fantasy prospect, but even he cannot deny that Martin’s talent is that of a top 5 running back. Brett denotes Martin’s vision and jump-cutting ability is what separates him from Jacquizz Rodgers.


Kollmann and Harris picked three plays to review, one 2017 pre-season game against the Jacksonville Jaguars and two games from last season against the San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys. In all three plays, you will notice how the offensive line falters and how RB Martin could have been tackled for a loss. Instead, Martin turns a tackle for loss (TFL) opportunity into a positive gain.

Video 1, Jax: Line of scrimmage at Tampa Bay 22-yard-line, could have been tackled at the TB 19. It looks like a power scheme to the right side. OJ Howard got pushed three yards back and inside Doug’s running lane, J.R. Sweezy took forever to pull around and had no push at contact, and Alan Cross (playing FB) looked slow to get to the LOS. I dunno if Donovan Smith was supposed to take on a second level guy or the immediate threat, but Smith neglecting the immediate threat and going to the second level left the defensive end unaccounted for in that run.

Video 2, SD: LOS @ SD 43, first contact @ SD 46. Looks like a zone blocking scheme shifting to the right side. TE Brandon Myers gets owned. (This is probably why we kept Auclair in addition to OJ – the need for improved Y tight ends. That and replacing Stocker in the future.) Donovan Smith makes it to the second level and blocks… no one. Smith is tunnel visioned here, again, and could have picked up #52. Smith is the helper on his initial block.

The positive side to this is the blocking from the wide receiver: look to the left side of the offensive line. Both WRs have the awareness to still block downfield despite the fact that play was supposed to run to the right side. One of those WRs is Adam Humphries and I can’t tell if the other one is 84 (Cameron Brate– doesn’t look like a TE build and looks short) or 89.

Video 3, Dal: LOS @ TB 46, first contact @ TB 45 (could have been TB 44 TFL). Even though the commentators say this isn’t a zone blocking scheme, it looks like an inside zone to me. I hate to point out Donovan Smith again, but wow. If this is zone, Smith’s player isn’t the player in front of him, but rather the middle linebacker. Smith was slow on the get up. Stocker had a longer path to traverse to even get a hand on the MLB. Again, if this is zone, Smith’s guy should have been the MLB and Stocker the DE. The DE would have to go around LT Smith as he was running towards the MLB.


Going into this video review by Kollmann and Harris I was intrigued about Doug Martin. Kollmann has done several videos of other players such Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota before their draft days. Kollmann is great at identifying both good and bad points about all the players he reviews. But recently, my mind has expanded to look at other things on tape. In fact, I started doing it in the following article, which was published in the fanpost section: Marpet’s Movement.

There were many reasons for a run blocking execution to breakdown negatively. Kollmann painted a great description by implying that not all run blocking plays will be executed perfectly unless you are Ezekiel Elliot. In all three film breakdowns, Donovan Smith’s faults are glaring. I’m beginning to think that Donovan is physically gifted, but limited technically. Two different seasons and Donovan looks oblivious on who to take based on the given defense in the run game, to me.

A defensive player always got close to Doug Martin in all of the video reviews. That defensive player was not impeded in any way for all three play reviews. In all three breakdowns, Smith is in the vicinity. That factor may be one of the reasons why the Buccaneers had to have six different starting running backs last year as opposed to Doug Martin and Charles Sims being healthy for all 16 games two seasons ago.

According to Football Outsider recordings, in 2015 the Bucs’ Stuff metric was ranked 13th, but in 2016, they were ranked 32nd. This also coincides with the lack of push in short yardage situations; Bucs’ Power Success ranking was 8th in 2015, but ranked 32nd in 2016. (Stuff metric is recording how many times a RB gets stopped at the line of scrimmage or behind it. Power Success is the successful attempts in short yardage situations, regardless of who is running the ball, QB or RB.)

Doug Martin has looked great for the past three training camps. He is the same player. For the past regular seasons, the results have been on opposite extremes. Most fans will simply state that Martin just sucks based upon box scores. The running back is either good or bad, and there are no other valid factors to this equation. This is why sharing the video review of Doug Martin from an outside source to Bucs Nation can help illuminate a path beyond the box scores as well as possibly construct a bigger context to evaluate from. For myself, my growth continues in video analysis to add to my numbers point-of-view.

The weak link in the run game is the offensive line. I was surprised to see Donovan Smith reappearing in all three breakdowns as a possible culprit, although not the only culprit, to almost incur a tackle for loss. Martin’s health is dependent upon the offensive line’s play. (You can read about that here in depth: Why you should believe in Doug Martin.)

2013 is the only year where the injury was not lingering nor was it due to a run play, but rather a wheel route. Yet, surprisingly, Martin still proved better than his 2014 missed tackle percentage (MT%) in 2016. A few more missed plays from Donovan Smith this year could put Martin’s health into jeopardy once again. We need Martin to stay healthy.

In the first three pre-season games of the 2017 season, Doug Martin was the only starter to score a touchdown. Even with the influx of receiving talents of DeSean Jackson, OJ Howard, and Chris Godwin to add to Mike Evans, Cam Brate, and Adam Humphries. Martin was also the only RB to score in all four pre-season games. The offensive line needs to keep Martin healthy all season long until our passing attack learns how to score touchdowns.