TAMPA, Florida — It hasn't taken long for Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith to develop an appreciation for Bobby Rainey, the diminutive running back who's making a name for himself as Doug Martin's backup.
The play of the third-year pro has been one of the few encouraging aspects of the disappointing 0-2 record the Bucs will take into Thursday night game at Atlanta.
Filling in for the injured Martin, the 5-foot-8, 212-pound Rainey rushed for 144 yards on 22 carries — the second-most in the NFL this season, during last week's 19-17 loss to St. Louis. He also had three pass receptions for 30 yards, giving him 174 total yards from scrimmage, the third-highest single-game total in the league so far.
Martin, a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie two years ago, hurt his left knee while being limited to nine yards on nine carries during a season-opening loss to Carolina. The Bucs held him out of the Rams game, and his status this week remains uncertain after being limited in practice on Tuesday.
Smith has preached since the start of training camp that the team needs at least two productive runners to have the type of rushing attack he feels is required to be successful.
"Talking about my glass being half full ... the job Bobby Rainey did, stepping up," the coach said. "And the offensive line put him a position to do those things. Those are the things that we will build on."
Undrafted following a standout college career at Western Kentucky, Rainey opened his rookie year on Baltimore's practice squad in 2012.
He began last season with Cleveland, appearing in six games before being waived by the Browns and signing with Tampa Bay after the Bucs lost Martin to a season-ending shoulder injury in October.
The rest of the NFL has been taking notice of him ever since.
Last season's 80-yard touchdown burst against Buffalo is the longest run in Bucs history and came less than a month after a 30-carry, career-best 163-yard rushing performance in a victory over Atlanta.
Rainey had two touchdowns rushing and one receiving against the Falcons.
"That was kind of his coming out party," Atlanta coach Mike Smith recalled Tuesday. "He's small in stature, but he's a very strong runner. He's got very good vision, and there's not a whole lot of area to hit. You've got shoulder pads and knees, and that's about it."
The Falcons (1-1) are 26th in the league in rushing defense, allowing an average of 154.5 yards per game.
Not that that means anything to Rainey, a native of Griffin, Georgia, near Atlanta.
"It's not just me on the field. We've got a lot of weapons," the running back said.
If Martin, who rushed for 1,454 yards in 2012, remains sidelined Thursday, Rainey will make his eighth career start and share the workload with second-year pro Mike James.
The 26-year-old relishes any chance he gets to prove he can get the job done.
"That's the hardest thing for a player, knowing that you belong and you're capable of doing the things that you see other guys do," Rainey said.
"It's a matter of being patient," he added, "and waiting for the right opportunity, and the right team, with the right fit for you."
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