Tuesday the Raiders had their fourth OTA practice of the offseason. Their preparation for the 2018 season is well underway. Also well underway is the buzz surrounding the team’s newest addition at running back.
Doug Martin comes over from Tampa where he spent the first six years of his NFL career.
Once considered the one of the NFL’s best running backs, the former All Pro has average just 2.9 yards per carry each of the past two seasons. That isn’t what anyone expected coming off a season in which he averaged 4.9 yards per carry and ran for 1402 yards. But here we are.
How could he have such a sudden and considerable drop off?
“The past couple of years I just got in my own way,” said Martin.
“Just not focusing on the right things. If you read the news, you probably already know what happened, but I’m a lot better now. I can’t wait to get the season going.”
What was in the news was that Martin had a substance abuse problem, testing positive for Adderall. That positive test got him suspended four games. This happened the season after he had signed a 5-year, $36 million deal that should have allowed him to finish his career with the Bucs. Two years later, the 28-year-old was released.
Coming home is what the Oakland and Stockton native sees as just what he needs to revive his career.
“Being here and having my family around and old friends, it’s definitely going to help me stay busy,” said Martin. “I can always confide in them if I need something to talk about.”
“It means a lot. The last time I played here was with the Bucs in 2012. I had a fabulous game. I had like 50 family fans in the crowd. That type of energy just brings the best out of me. I’m kind of excited to see what this year is going to bring me.”
So, the motivation is there. What the Raiders need to know is if the body and the talent is still there. He is certainly being given every opportunity so far. From the first OTA, Martin has been the next man up behind Marshawn Lynch, jumping ahead of the likes of Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington.
Gruden likes Martin having seen him perform in Tampa where the old ball coach makes his home. That’s why Martin is here on a team friendly deal. New offensive coordinator Greg Olson has been impressed as well.
“Doug has really jumped out in this camp,” said Olson. “His quickness, his ability to pick up the offense and what we’ve given him. That’s been very encouraging. He really has a fresh set of legs and that’s probably been the most encouraging. When you watch him run out here in the drills that we’ve run and the strength and conditioning staff and the things that we’ve been doing there, it just looks like he’s got a real fresh set of legs.”
Martin has looked good. But something has seemed so familiar about all this. Especially when Olson speaks on it.
Then it occurred to me. Short, stocky, scat back approaching 30 coming home to Oakland to prove he can still play and looks impressive in OTA’s... it’s Maurice Jones-Drew.
Jones-Drew was 29 — just 10 months older than Martin —, having just come off a season in which he averaged 3.4 yards per carry and just a few seasons removed from rushing for 1606 yards en route to being named an All Pro. Coming home was just what the doctor ordered. And in the offseason he looked fantastic.
Then the season came.
Jones-Drew wouldn’t crack 100 yards... for the season. In 12 games, he ran 43 times for 96 yards (2.2 yards per carry). The Raiders lost ten straight to start that season and it wasn’t until they finally gave the ball to Latavius Murray that they got their first win.
Now, before anyone suggest the same could be said for Marshawn Lynch, save it. No, you can’t. Completely different type of backs and completely different situation. Marshawn struggled through an injury in 2015 before shutting it down, took a year off, and then came out of retirement. There was nothing to suggest he couldn’t play except for the basic idea that running backs can’t play past 30. He proved that wrong last season.
All this is not to say Martin is sure to falter the way MJD did. But it’s important not to get too caught up in the hype because we’ve been here before and the similarities are certainly worth noting.