Buccaneers’ coach Lovie Smith recently announced that Tampa Bay, will in fact, have a running back by committee this upcoming season. This, of course, means pro bowl running back Doug Martin will not see as many snaps or carries this season as he did during his rookie campaign. But is that necessarily a bad thing? I don’t believe so.
In today’s NFL, it’s rare to see one primary back on a team. Outside of Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, who will now face a lightened workload thanks to Darren Sproles, or Jamaal Charles, the NFL is very much a “running back by committee” league. Those previous three guys are the top dogs, the cream of the crop, the creme de la creme. And although Doug Martin showed flashes of being able to be the focal point of a running game, he is also coming off shoulder surgery due to an injury he suffered last season. In his absence, Mike James and Bobby Rainey did an excellent job given the circumstances. In the third round of this year’s NFL draft, the Bucs selected West Virginia stand-out Charles Sims, who is widely considered the favorite to be the number two guy behind Martin.
The ability to interchange running backs with different skill sets can be extremely beneficial, if done correctly. Despite Martin’s small stature, he runs with a lot of power. He’s not your Reggie Bush or Chris Johnson speedster. But rather, a runner that punishes the defenders attempting to tackle him as much, if not more, than they punish him. Bringing a player into the game like Sims or Rainey, who can blow past them with pure speed, can open up more opportunities for Martin, especially late in games. As the game wears on, the defense tends to wear down. Mixing power and speed can create late-game mismatches favoring the offense. If Sims gets a few carries and makes the defense chase him from one sideline to another, by time Martin gets the ball back, they’re too gassed to have enough strength to bring Martin down without gang-tackling.
We’ve seen this formula work on numerous teams. Carolina had the most lethal 1-2 punch in recent memory with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Before them, it was Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne, also known as “Thunder & Lightning”, who were a devastating combo for a few years in New York. The 49ers have a warehouse filled with running backs they use to their advantage. And even Tampa used some pretty effective running back tandems during their glory years, in Mike Alstott paired with both Warrick Dunn and Michael Pittman. The NFL, as NFL Network analyst Marshall Faulk put it, are “making the running back obsolete”. And although that isn’t entirely true, they have embraced the pass-happy offenses enough that the feature back is no longer the norm. Teams find themselves standing a better chance if they keep their primary backs fresh as much as possible.
And that’s exactly what this committee will do. Despite no longer being “the man”, Martin will still get the majority of the carries. In the past, Lovie Smith has used committees and his “primary” back got an average of 60.3% of the total team carries. So even though it will lighten his workload a bit, it may also extend Martin’s career. The running back position has the shortest shelf-life of just about any position on the field. And with a running back as good as Doug Martin, you want to ensure he will be around for a while. We’ve seen stars like Cadillac Williams, Shaun Alexander, and Eddie George be run too hard, too much, too early, and it caused them to decline and be forced into retirement long before they should have. And Lovie absolutely does not want to do that with the Buccaneers’ star back.
So despite the frustration from fantasy owners and some fans who want it to be “all muscle hamster all the time”, the Buccaneers realize the prize player they have in Martin and they want to keep him healthy and effective as long as possible. Martin will get his carries, his big time plays, and his touchdowns. But more importantly, he’ll be the top guy on what could prove to be a very effective run game for years to come.
Follow OPSN End Zone Score’s James Yarcho on Twitter @JYarcho_OPSN