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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs RB Doug Martin uses 'vision' to break long TD runs

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Published:   |   Updated: March 14, 2013 at 12:20 AM

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TAMPA -

Doug Martin wrapped his arms around a handoff from quarterback Josh Freeman, took two quick steps forward and suddenly found himself so close to guard Jamon Meredith he could count the stitches on his jersey.

At that moment in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 42-32 victory against the Raiders on Sunday, many of running backs would have simply plowed into Meredith and taken the 2 or 3 yards his power block provided.

Not Martin.

Guided by a rare ability to quickly evaluate his surroundings, Martin hesitated for a shard of a second, stuck his right foot in the ground and broke left through a sliver of a hole on his way to a 67-yard touchdown run.

When Bucs coach Greg Schiano talks about Martin having skills that can't be taught, he's talking about everything Martin did from the moment he encountered Meredith to the time he popped out of that hole and into daylight.

The term the football world has for that rare skill is "vision," but Martin will tell you it's more of a sense, a subconscious feel that allows him within milliseconds to find escape routes few others can.

"There's a lot of stuff happening all in a split second,'' Martin said of what goes on during a run between the tackles. "The biggest thing you have to do, though, is remain disciplined. You have to stay on your track.

"That's how you get the defenders to believe you're going to stay on that track and then if you need to make a cut, you cut off the block you're getting and that's what sets you up for those big plays.''

In the NFL, a big running play is any that results in a gain of 10 yards or more. Martin, who the Bucs traded back into the late first round to get in April's draft, already has 23 this season.

That includes six runs of more than 20 yards, three of which came last week against the Raiders when Martin ran for a franchise record 251 yards. With touchdown runs of 1, 45, 67 and 70 yards, Martin also became the first player in NFL history to score on three runs of at least 45 yards in one game.

On each of those long scoring runs, the rookie out of Boise State reached a point early in the carry when he encountered, but quickly eluded, the kind of resistance that might derail an ordinary back.

And in every one of those instances, it was the combination of Martin's willingness to stay on track until he reached the resistance and that rare feel that allowed him to turn the carry into something special.

"The thing is, the hole is only about that wide,'' Schiano said, holding his hands about 18 inches apart. "But Doug, he just trusts the play and stays on track and then on top of that he's patient.

"And the good backs, when they run like that, they kind of pop their feet for a second if the hole isn't there and then they burst. There's just that momentary hesitation, and it's more than patience. It's that feel and that's hard to teach.''

You can't teach speed or size either, and Martin's ability to run 40 yards in 4.5 seconds, as he did at the NFL scouting combine, and stout build aid him inside those melees, as well.

At 5-foot-9, he tends to disappear behind a pile of linemen. And with 215 pounds of bulk force at his disposal, he can power his way off tackles and through would-be tacklers.

"He's got that thing that some of the great running backs that I've been around have had, that size where they're compact enough to get in behind the line where they become hard to find,'' Chargers coach Norv Turner said.

"And he's big enough to where he can break a lot of tackles and of course he's fast. That's an awfully good combination, and I don't like to compare guys, but there's no question there are things he does that are Emmitt (Smith)-like.''

The comparisons to Smith, the NFL's all-time leading rusher, are becoming common place. Even before Martin broke off his 70-yard touchdown run Sunday, Raiders radio analyst and former Oakland coach Tom Flores made the same comparison.

"He has a lot of natural gifts,'' Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said. "But I don't want you to get the idea that he's a guy who's not working his tail off. I think he's mature beyond his years as far as his preparation habits go and his focus, his ability to be a consistent performer and not get rattled by the big stage or any setbacks.

"I remember some of the questions that were being asked earlier in the year about, is he ever going to be able to make a big play. I think that question has been answered, because he has that extra gear."


rcummings@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7979 Twitter: RCummingsTBO

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