FAB 1. UPON HIS RETURN, SIMS COULD OVERTAKE MARTIN AS BUCS’ RB
The Buccaneers have not been pleased with the production of running back Doug Martin. The third-year rusher has rushed for just 139 yards and one touchdown on 48 carries (2.9 avg.). Martin, a former first-round pick, is averaging a paltry 27.8 yards per game on the ground, which in unacceptable.
To put that production in perspective, Dallas’ DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher, is averaging 130.4 yards per game. With 139 yards receiving and a touchdown, Bobby Rainey, Martin’s backup, has been as productive as a receiver as Martin has been as a runner.
Unless Martin has a breakout game against Minnesota this Sunday, the Bucs will begin to give more carries to backup Rainey, who has 54 carries for 262 yards and a touchdown, or to rookie Charles Sims returned to practice for the first time on Wednesday since tearing a tendon in his ankle that required surgery in August.
Sims only played in one preseason game before sustaining his injury in practice on August 15, but he showed an impressive burst, nice hands and great speed in the preseason opener at Jacksonville. In that game, Sims had 13 yards on six runs (2.2 avg.), but had runs of nine and 13 yards called back due to holding penalties. Factor in those runs and Sims rushed for 35 yards on eight carries, an average of 4.4 yards per carry. The West Virginia product also had three catches for 32 yards, including an impressive 27-yarder against the Jaguars.
Look for the Bucs to activate Sims from the team’s injured reserve list next week and try to get him some carries against Cleveland if he continues to progress in practice and doesn’t suffer any setbacks with his ankle in practice. The team hopes he can provide a spark to the team’s lackluster running game. But will Sims’ return come at the expense of Martin or Rainey?
Sims, team’s third-round draft selection this year, wasn’t a luxury pick as some surmised in May. Tampa Bay felt Sims was the best running back in the draft and was too good to pass up in the third round, where he was the best player available.
Perhaps anticipating a disappointing year for Martin, who had a sophomore slump in 2013 prior to suffering a shoulder surgery in Week 7, the Bucs chose to spend a high draft pick on Sims because the team felt that he had the ability to quickly develop into a well-rounded starter in the NFL that could run and catch, which is something that Martin has been inconsistent in doing. In fact, Martin is not in the Bucs’ two-minute offense package, which is often featured at the end of the first half and at the end of the game. Rainey, who has better hands, replaces Martin in the clutch part of football games, and that speaks volumes.
Sims’ ability to catch the ball is key for the Buccaneers, and his first during his rookie season look could be replacing Rainey in those key situations before unseating Martin as the team’s primary running back. In his freshman season at Houston, Sims caught 70 passes for 759 yards and one touchdown, while rushing for 698 yards and nine scores on 132 carries (5.3 avg.). He would catch 133 more passes for 1,349 yards and 10 touchdowns over the next two seasons with the Cougars before transferring to West Virginia for his senior year.
Sims rushed for 3,465 yards and 40 touchdowns on 592 carries (5.9 avg.) in four years, including a career-high 1,095 yards and 11 TDs on 208 carries (5.3 avg.) in his lone season as a Mountaineer in 2013. The Bucs believe the 6-foot, 213-pound rookie has the ability to become a franchise back, and the fact that he has drawn comparisons to Chicago’s Matt Forte is worth noting as that was Lovie Smith’s hand-picked guy with the Bears.
Sims has been handpicked by Smith and general manager Jason Licht in Tampa Bay. The team’s scouts love him, too, and are anxious to see him play down the stretch.
Despite clocking a 4.46 prior to the 2013 NFL Draft, Martin seems to have lost a step over the past two years and doesn’t have the acceleration he displayed when he rushed for a franchise-record 251 yards and four touchdowns against Oakland during his rookie campaign. If Martin has a breakout game against the Vikings, he can maintain his standing as the team’s feature back right now and keep Sims on the bench for a few more weeks.
If Martin continues his plodding ways, look for Sims to be rushed into the lineup for the opportunity for more plays where he and Rainey could take over the Bucs’ running game. With Martin’s inconsistency catching the ball, he could slip to third on the depth chart this year with Sims’ emergence and eventually slide out of Tampa Bay in 2015.
Ironically, Martin’s first 100-yard rushing game came against Minnesota in 2012 when he rushed for 135 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries (4.7 avg.), while catching three passes for 70 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown on a screen. Martin is in desperate need of that type of game against the Vikings on Sunday.