The two circles formed by Doug Martin and Jon Gruden’s careers are different sizes, but they follow a similar path. Both started in Oakland, led to Tampa, and led them back to Oakland.
For Gruden, his passion for the Raiders was developed when Al Davis made him the youngest ever NFL head coach at 34. Martin’s passion for the Raiders started much younger.
“I was born in Oakland and moved to Stockton California,” Martin said over conference call Thursday. “Growing up I watched the Raiders. Me and Gruden were joking about how we’re both coming back to Oakland. We went to Tampa and now were back in Oakland, so it’s full circle for us. That’s something that we joke about.”
Several reasons led to Gruden eventually making the decision to return to Oakland. His itch to get back into coaching, of course, but that itch is much easier to scratch when you feel like you have a good team waiting for you.
Gruden has said several times that Derek Carr being in place was a major factor, but he has also talked at length about what he would like to do with the running game.
“I would like to have a fullback,” Gruden said at the scouting combine last month. “They’re a dying breed in football, but I think it does give your running a lot of deception. And if Marshawn Lynch is the feature back, I think it’d be nice if we serviced him with a fullback. He had a guy named [Michael] Robinson who’s with the NFL Network, who was a hell of a fullback. You need a blocking tight end if you’re going to slam the ball with a beast. So, those are two things that I’m looking for.”
This philosophy is appreciated by smaller, shifty scat backs like Martin.
“That makes a runner feel real nice,” Martin said. “When he brings up bringing in blocking tight ends and bringing in fullbacks and wanting to go old school. That’s something that a running back wants to hear. I’m definitely excited to see what we’re gonna do.”
The blocking starts up front with the Raiders having one of the league’s best lines and extends to that of blocking tight ends and full backs; positions the Raiders have also added in the past couple days of free agency.
The past couple years, Martin has struggled with injuries and an an offensive line that had one of the lowest yards before contact averages in the league (1.71) according to Pro Football Focus figures. Martin figures to get more space with the Raiders’ elite interior line than he did in Tampa and as he said that also played a role in why he wanted to be in Oakland.
It gives him his best chance of rebounding from consecutive seasons in which he averaged just 2.9 yards per carry. Quite a departure from the 2015 season in which he surpassed 1400 yards and was named All Pro.
Most of his career, Martin was the featured back. In Oakland he is likely to take a backseat to Marshawn Lynch.
“Marshawn’s a great back,” said Martin. “He’s definitely made his mark in this league and whatever role that they want me to play, I’m willing to play it. I’m not sure how many carries I’ll be getting and how many carries we’ll be splitting, but whatever I need to do to help the team, I’m gonna do it.”
Martin’s primary competition for a roster spot and playing time figures to come from third year backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington.