TAMPA — Get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged.
That's the 2014 mantra for Buccaneers running back Doug Martin, who experienced both insult and injury last year as he attempted a successful follow-up to a spectacular rookie season.
Now, the former first-round pick out of Boise State finds himself fending off questions about his role with Tampa Bay under new coach Lovie Smith and first-year offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, who suggests Martin will receive fewer touches this fall.
“We don't like to mention or even think about last year,'' said Martin, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. “Nothing went our way last year. We had a quarterback change and they stacked the box, so of course it was tough to get through the line.''
Martin started off slowly last September — and then it got worse.
During an Oct. 20 loss at Atlanta that dropped the Bucs to 0-6, Martin suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder while trying to catch a long pass from Mike Glennon.
“Getting hurt was catastrophic for me because I'd never been injured,'' said Martin, who finished third in the league in total yards from scrimmage in 2012.
“Entering the league as a rookie, I was told many times about what could happen in the pros. At the rookie symposium, they said 'when you get injured,' not 'if you get injured.' At first, I thought I could shrug it off, but I had to let the shoulder heal and my range of motion is fully back now. Doctors say I'm good to go.''
So does Smith, who scoffed at any conjecture he has lost faith in Martin's ability to be Tampa Bay's lead back.
“Doug's a good football player, and he knows that,'' Smith said at the start of Tampa Bay's mandatory three-day minicamp, which concludes today. “You don't see Doug complaining. He knows what our plans are for him.''
When the Bucs drafted Charles Sims in the third round last month, a deep backfield that includes Mike James and Bobby Rainey became even deeper.
Sims displayed good hands at West Virginia, and he could emerge as Tedford's favorite third-down option in the backfield, but Martin wants this coaching staff to remember he caught 49 passes as a rookie.
“I love coach Tedford, and I can't wait to put this offense to work,'' Martin said. “I'm getting into this playbook big-time. He uses everybody, and I know that to be a complete back I have to catch the ball and pass-block well.
“My rookie season was a great year for me personally, but I just have to let that go. I have to keep pushing to get back to those 250-yard, four-touchdown games.''
When the Bucs were rolling in the middle of the 2012 season, averaging 34 points while going 5-1, Martin was the unquestioned catalyst. In those six games, he averaged 7.1 yards per carry and added 19 receptions for an additional 266 yards, accounting for seven touchdowns.
Despite a poor December, Tampa Bay set a franchise record by finishing ninth in the NFL in total offense and Martin came to camp determined to prove he was no one-year wonder. But frustration seeped in last September, when Martin averaged only 3.4 yards per carry behind a line that displayed little physicality.
“You have to keep pushing, keep plowing away, and hopefully holes will open up,'' he said. “Some did, and some didn't. I'm real anxious to go out and play the way I did my first year.''
At 25, Martin already pines for the days of old.
He wasn't drafted by Tampa Bay's new regime, and the Bucs plan on turning to more of a running back-by-committee approach as they attempt to end a six-year playoff drought.
“Everywhere I've ever been, if you look at my history, we've played more than one running back,'' Smith said. “(With the Bears, we) had a great running back in Thomas Jones and we drafted Cedric Benson and played them both. One running back just can't make it through the season.''
On July 25, when the Bucs stage their first practice of training camp, no player will approach the new season with more sense of purpose than Martin.
“Coach Smith does a good job of believing we're going to the Super Bowl, and the attitude around here is awesome,'' Martin said. “I want to show everybody that I'm still that guy.''