|Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press|
One month later, the young Bucs have won four consecutive games and Martin is crafting a solid argument for Rookie of the Year honors. Martin crossed the 1,000-yard mark Sunday and he's quickly become the anchor of a young offense that nobody wants to deal with down the stretch.
"He's got the shiftiness, not necessarily the blazing speed, but he's got it above the neck, and that's a big part of it," veteran safety Ronde Barber recently told Tampa Bay Online. "He's smart for a young back and he knows where the holes are and how to finish and make big plays."
Martin's breakout game against the Vikings was followed by a doozy, as he became only the second player in NFL history to rush for at least 250 yards and notch four touchdowns in a game with his 25 carry, 251-yard outburst against the Oakland Raiders in Week 9.
"The game is slowing down for me," he explained.
Martin is a pleasure to watch because, unlike so many of today's runners, he's an every-down back that defenses must account for by air and by land. Let's take a look at three examples of what makes Martin such a special player.
Martin's development is helped by a resilient Bucs offensive line that's suffered major injuries, but continues to play well as a unit.
Check out the line play above on Martin's 67-yard touchdown run in that Oakland game. On second-and-9 from Tampa's 33, the Bucs line up in a power formation with tight ends Nate Byham and Dallas Clark stacked to the outside of left tackle Donald Penn. Tampa also positions 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive-end-turned-fullback Erik Lorig offset in the backfield. Only Vincent Jackson is split out wide at the top of the screen.
This is a play that challenges the Raiders to a contest of strength. Oakland is thinking run, with four down lineman and a linebacker hugged up tight. Oakland's Tyvon Branch has moved up from his safety spot for support.
Tampa loves to pull its guards out of this formation. We saw that time and again watching film of Martin's recent handiwork. At the snap, right guard Jamon Meredith rises, pivots, slices down the line past center and barrels into Raiders middle linebacker Rolando McClain -- a sabotage move that springs Martin free. Also helpful: The mighty Lorig, who blankets Branch while Byham and Clark double team linebacker Philip Wheeler, driving him out of his gap.
Top-shelf blocking by the Bucs. Martin -- no small feat -- does the rest.
Here we are, two weeks later, in Sunday's overtime win against the Carolina Panthers.
Meredith pulls again on this play, but this time to his outside, past the right tackle. It helps to spring Martin for this 27-yard run on Tampa's game-winning drive.
This play is all about Martin's patience and vision. One occasional rap on Titans back Chris Johnson is his knack to dance behind the line of scrimmage. He's a home-run hitter when Tennessee sometimes needs him to accept the three- or four-yard run. Martin doesn't have a problem hitting the hole. He shows excellent decision-making. Martin could have gotten cute on this run, but he finds his alley and commits to it.
Martin's not the league's fastest back, but his downhill style is a nightmare for the opponent. The endless comparisons to Ray Rice make sense, but Martin also recalls Emmitt Smith in the way he chugs down field, picking up steam in the second and third level of the defense.
We've already talked about Martin as an every-down foundation back in Tampa's offense. Rookie runners typically struggle in third-down packages because they can't hack their blocking assignments. David Wilson of the New York Giants has lost out on snaps because of this. It takes time to become a complete back in the NFL, but Martin is picking it up quick.
He's an impressive asset for Josh Freeman in the passing game and the tape above is a solid example. It's not an overly complex moment in time, but watch Martin tear through the line into open space and make an athletic play to pull in Freeman's pass. Forty-two yards later, the Bucs are in business.
That pass-catching ability in a running back extends drives -- and a running back's career.
The young crop of quarterbacks get all the attention in 2012, but Martin has emerged as a worthy rookie of the year candidate because of his versatility and core value to the exciting young Bucs.
Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.