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Bucs GM: Doug Martin might not start when he returns

The praise for Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin has been effusive this offseason, but team management continues to hedge their exaltation.

Martin has three games left on his suspension to open the season. Speaking with ESPN's Dan Graziano this weekend, GM Jason Licht said the starting running back gig might not be there when Martin returns.

"It might not," Licht said. "Look, he has done everything we've asked him to do, and he looks reminiscent of 2015 when he was playing for his contract. He looks the same out there, mentally and physically. So he might be one of those guys that needs a carrot. And he's got a pretty big carrot in front of him right now, because there's no guarantees that he's going to be here. And he knows that. We've talked to him, and he's good with it. He goes, 'I understand.'"

The tempering of expectations comes as the Bucs put on pads Sunday. According to the team's official website, Martin looked good, is in shape and running hard.

While Martin owns the most talent in the Tampa backfield, the team likes what it has in Jacquizz Rodgers as an early down pounder and Charles Sims in a pass-catching role.

"So we like the committee that we have for the first three games, and we'll see what happens," Licht said. "You never know. Somebody can kind of jump out of there."

If Rodgers performs well to open the season, Martin could be relegated to a timeshare when he returns. The pint-sized, muscle-bound back knows the score.

"Yeah, that's the reality of the situation," Martin told ESPN on Sunday. "That's what they told me. I can only control everything that I can control right now -- just show up to camp, play hard and show them that I can continue to be that starting back. And when the time comes when I come back, we'll see what happens. So it's still in the air. It's still in the air. I'm hopeful, and we'll see what happens. I just show them what I'm capable of doing, and that's 2012 Doug, that's 2015 Doug. And if I do that, everything else will fall into place. So we'll see."

Martin's career has been characterized by intense peaks and valleys. In 2012 and 2015 he went for 1,400-plus yards each year while earning 4.6 and 4.9 yards per carry, respectively. In between those seasons, he's struggled to stay on the field and break tackles. In 2016, Martin averaged 2.9 yards per carry on 144 totes in just eight games.

The Bucs like what they've seen from Martin this offseason, but Licht is comfortable reminding the running back nothing is given. Tampa will continue to dangle the carrot in front of Martin until he seizes the starting role for good.

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