The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have finally received some good news. Running back Doug Martin looks set to return for week 4, having missed the team's last two games due to a knee injury sustained in the season-opening loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Martin was able to practice on Monday, four days after missing his team's 56-14 annihilation at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons. Per beat writer Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times, Martin appeared to be working out "without limitations" during Monday's session. Tampa faces the Pittsburgh Steelers next weekend. The Steelers are coming off a 37-19 victory over the Panthers on Sunday night.
Martin's return should be a boost for Tampa, as the Bucs' roster has been beset by injuries across the board in the early stages of the 2014 season. QB Josh McCown is the latest concern for Tampa, having sustained an injury to his right (throwing) thumb during Thursday night's debacle in Atlanta. Martin put in a less-than-stellar performance in week 1, gaining just 9 yards on 9 carries, but only played a half before suffering his injury. Had the Bucs played on Sunday, there would have been a better chance for Martin to take part in the matchup with the Falcons, but on a short week, Tampa decided to withhold him from action.
In Martin's absence, Bobby Rainey shined in a week 2 loss to the St. Louis Rams, when he rushed for 144 yards on 22 carries. His fortunes took a dive last Thursday, however, as he compiled just 41 yards on 11 carries, losing two fumbles in the process. If Martin is able to go, he should have a prime opportunity to re-establish himself as the Bucs' main threat in the backfield. With McCown likely to miss anywhere from one to several games, Tampa could look to a run-heavy attack to support 2nd-year QB Mike Glennon, who will start under center in place of the injured veteran. Doug Martin looks set to return for week 4.
On paper, it is a good matchup for the Tampa backfield, as Pittsburgh was struggling against the run heading into week 3. However, they stiffened up in Carolina, and held the Panthers to a total of 42 yards on the ground. Martin, who missed all but six games a season ago due to shoulder problems, was hoping to bounce back and replicate the form of his 2012 rookie season, in which he rushed for 1,454 yards, 11 touchdowns, and added 49 receptions for 472 yards and an additional score. He did not look like that player in his limited action in week 1, as Tampa's offensive line endured struggles of their own at the point of attack.
If Martin does play this weekend, he could be a solid RB3/FLEX play with possible RB2 upside depending on how the offense moves under Glennon's stewardship. It stands to reason that Martin could serve as a safety valve for the young quarterback in the passing game, in addition to what should be a decent workload in the running game. In an attempt to limit his snaps and keep him fresh, Rainey would likely be used as a change of pace option in addition to extra work on third-downs.
Owners of both Doug Martin and Bobby Rainey will want to keep a close eye on this week's injury report, which will make its first appearance after Wednesday's practice. Both players should see action, but if Martin is back in the lineup, the third-year man should have every opportunity to re-stake his claim as Tampa's number one option on the ground.