Growing pains were expected as first-year offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan juggled a new marquee wideout in Jackson, a quarterback learning a different playbook and the rookie back. So Tampa's staff spent the down week scouting itself.
"Doug showed the vision, the burst, the suddenness that special running backs have," says Sullivan. "But we didn't have many opportunities for big [running] plays early on."
To create those chances, Tampa first had to show the threat of its receiving weapons: the 6'5" Jackson and the 6'2" Mike Williams. It's no coincidence that Martin's breakout game against the Vikings came one week after Jackson's 216 yards versus New Orleans.
In the four weeks before the bye Freeman had averaged 197 yards in the air, completing just seven passes of more than 25 yards, and Martin had just six rushes of at least 10 yards, none for 20 yards or more. But in the six weeks following the bye, Freeman averaged nearly 90 more passing yards per game and connected on 25 of those defense-stretching big plays. At which point Martin took off: 22 rushes of at least 10 yards, and six of 20 or more, four of them for touchdowns. That's twice as many long-distance scoring runs as anyone else in the league.
"The two go hand in hand," Sullivan says of Martin's explosion and the vertical aggressiveness. "That made it more difficult for teams to load up the box and take away the run."
Another factor in Martin's breakout has been his willingness to admit his relative naiveté. At halftime against Oakland, when Martin had only 31 yards on eight carries, Schiano told him he was losing his balance because he was dropping his head as he hit the hole.
Head up, Martin's third carry of the second half went for 45 yards. And two possessions later he burst off left tackle for a 67-yard score. "I did what [Schiano] said, and then it was off to the races," says Martin, all humility.
A week earlier, on the flight home after the Vikings game, a teammate had tried to get Martin to sit in first class, traditionally reserved for veterans. He declined. When some of the older guys hounded him to upgrade, he relented. But "he wanted to play his role as a rookie," says third-year defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. "He could have said, I'm a starter.... But he didn't. And that's rare."
Rare, but not entirely surprising in Martin's case. A business major at Boise State, he understands that football sets the table for everything else. If he doesn't take care of business on the field, there won't be demands off it.
He wants his brand to be associated with hard work, humility and integrity—and not the Muscle Hamster nickname that has stuck with him since college. Explaining the moniker, which he hates, Martin says his girlfriend at the time was a gymnast, and a common friend referred to her by that name; when he protested, the name was heaped on him too.