TAMPA, Fla. — Doug Martin doesn’t believe in the so-called sophomore jinx.
Tampa Bay’s second-year running back rushed for 1,454 yards and scored 12 touchdowns as a rookie, and the Buccaneers believe he’s capable of performing even better in 2013.
Especially with two of the team’s best players — guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph — returning from injuries to strengthen the offensive line.
Martin finished third in the NFL behind Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson with 1,926 total yards from scrimmage in 2012. He was fourth in rushing behind Peterson, Alfred Morris, Marshawn Lynch and Jamal Charles after being selected with the 31st overall pick of last year’s draft.
Now, he’s eager to build on that success.
“I’m more confident in what I’m doing out there. I can’t wait for the season to start,” Martin said following practice during the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp.
“There’s a lot of room to improve. It’s the second year in this system,” the former Boise State standout said. “Getting a second year under our belt, everyone looks pretty comfortable.”
The Bucs traded up to select the 5-foot-9, 215-pound Martin late in the first round of the draft, confident that he had the size and toughness to be an every-down back as a pro.
After a relatively quiet first six weeks of his rookie season, Martin burst into the spotlight with a 29-carry, 135-yard performance in a nationally televised Thursday night game against Peterson’s Minnesota Vikings. He also turned one of his three pass receptions into a 64-yard touchdown.
The following week he averaged 10 yards per carry while running for 251 yards and four TDs to key another road victory at Oakland. The team-record output included touchdown bursts of 45, 67 and 70 yards, making him the first player in NFL history to score three rushing TDs of 45 or more yards in the same game.
“Every day he comes in and gives it his best,” quarterback Josh Freeman said, adding the return this season of Nicks and Joseph, should give Martin a chance to be even more effective in 2013.
“Having Carl and Davin back and healthy, that’s going to make a huge difference,” Freeman added. “I’m not saying you’re expecting a drop-off or anything, but those are two All Pro-caliber guys coming back, and I know they’re really hungry, really eager to get back on the field.”
The soft-spoken running back’s success as a rookie may have surprised some people, but not coach Greg Schiano, who has likened Martin’s style to that of Baltimore’s Ray Rice, who played for Schiano at Rutgers.
As part of his preparation for the upcoming season, Martin has been watching film of some of the all-time great NFL running backs, including Jim Brown and Walter Payton.
“They’re relentless runners,” Martin said. “What I learn from watching them is it took three or four guys to bring them down. Don’t let one guy bring you down, just always run hard.”
As good as Martin was as a rookie, Schiano said he — and the entire offense for that matter — figures to benefit from a second year in the Bucs system.
“Absolutely,” Schiano said. “If you look at him, I think he looks better now than he did this time last year — physically, understanding-wise, all those things. I think there’s another level for him for sure.”
Freeman became Tampa Bay’s first 4,000-yard passer in 2012, Vincent Jackson had 72 receptions for 1,384 and eight touchdowns, and Martin had five 100-yard games and broke the team’s rookie rushing record.
To cap it off, Martin was selected to play in the Pro Bowl.
“Being a rookie, it was crazy seeing all those vets. You’ve got the Manning brothers, Drew Brees, everybody. It was crazy,” Martin said, adding one of the highlights of the trip was “just hanging out with the guys” and practicing with players such as Peterson, Lynch and Larry Fitzgerald.
His stellar first season also has made him more recognizable around the Tampa Bay area.
“That comes with the game and being successful on the field,” he said of fan reaction to him in public. “I say: ‘Thank you very much, thank you very much.’ At the same time, you’ve got to brush it off, because you’ve got to get back out on the field and do it again.”