TAMPA, Fla. — A grateful Doug Martin is working hard to prove he deserves another chance with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The sixth-year running back will miss the first three games of the NFL season while serving the remainder of a suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. When he returns, there’s no guarantee he’ll step right into the lineup.
Martin, however, is at training camp doing everything he can to put himself in a position to eventually reclaim his starting job.
“I have to approach this like any other season,” said Martin, a two-time Pro Bowl selection limited to eight games a year ago because of injuries and the suspension that sidelined him the final week of 2016.
He can practice and participate in team activities through the end of the preseason, but will not be eligible to rejoin the team during the regular season until Sept. 25.
“I will be out those three games, that’s the reality of the situation. During those three weeks, I’m going to prepare myself to get my legs back under me and get ready to play,” Martin said.
“Me and my people,” the 27-year-old added, “are going to come up with a regimen on what needs to be done during those three weeks.”
While Martin is out, coach Dirk Koetter plans to spread the workload among a committee of running backs that could include Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, Peyton Barber and, possibly, rookie Jeremy McNichols.
Martin was the NFL’s second-leading rusher behind Adrian Peterson with 1,402 yards and six touchdowns in 2015. He also topped 1,400 yards rushing and scored 11 of his 12 TDs on the ground as a rookie in 2012.
The Bucs got off to a slow start, in part because of an inconsistent running attack, before surging to a 9-7 finish last season.
Meanwhile, Martin statistically had his worst year as a pro.
In addition to beginning his suspension in late December, the 5-foot-9, 223-pound running back was benched one game and missed six others because of injury.
And with the two-time Pro Bowl selection averaging a career-worst 2.9 yards per carry and finishing with just 421 yards and three touchdowns, Rodgers stepped in and led the Bucs with 560 yards rushing after not even being on the roster when the season began.
Martin, who spoke publicly about the suspension for the first time in May, has not discussed specifics about the drug involved or his decision to enter a treatment facility.
He said he trained six days a week in Thousand Oaks, California, preparing to rejoin the Bucs for offseason workouts.
Koetter and general manager Jason Licht have been impressed with they’ve seen.
Martin is happy to be back around teammates and determined to make the most of an opportunity to redeem himself.
“It’s a real relief. Just thinking back on it is a little surreal to me. Like, ‘Wow, did that actually happen?’ But, it did and it happened for the better,” Martin said. “I’m glad to be back out here, and I’m ready to move forward from that and show everybody out here what I came to do.”