Commentary | After four games, Tampa Bay Buccaneers still remain one of the NFL's mystery teams

adell@bradenton.comOctober 3, 2012 

The NFL season is one-fourth complete, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers remain a mystery.

They are 1-3 with the three losses coming by seven, six and two points.

But don't we all feel this is a team standing on the edge of a plank?

We know what Greg Schiano wants the Bucs to be; but wanting and being in the NFL are two different things.

As stubborn as they come, the new Bucs head coach insists he wants a run-first, physical team. He is learning that might not be possible, and if he wants to be around longer than the man he replaced, he might have to change.

The decision to move up in the draft and select running back Doug Martin in the first round has raised legitimate questions.

When Martin was selected, he received rave reviews from those within the organization who wanted him. Now we are hearing stuff like, "have patience" and "he is a hard worker."

Those who described him as the second coming of Ray Rice have lost their voice.

What Martin might be is a serviceable NFL running back, which is no knock on him. He didn't pick himself in the first round. He is a high quality individual who works diligently.

On Tuesday, Schiano did a complete reverse from his draft day monologue, saying he was never sure about Martin.

"I really don't know what my expectations (about Martin) were. What I wanted was yes for it to be more," Schiano said. "I wouldn't judge it yet. Four games in, I'm not ready to say. I would like to see more. I'm confident he will. He's got that kind of ability. The offensive front needs to settle down a little bit more. I think he has that kind of ability, and the more LeGarrette (Blount) feels good and we can get him in there, the more it will help in Doug's production."

If Schiano likes those running backs who break tackles and get yards after they're hit, he might want to revisit the draft.

He will have a lot of company wondering why Redskins rookie Alfred Morris from FAU wasn't selected until the sixth round and was the 14th running back chosen.

Did you really think Bucs GM Mark Dominik, the man with more misses than hits, would see something in this young man?

Lacking top-end speed and coming from a 1-11 team soured many on Morris. But Skins head coach Mike Shanahan often sees things others don't.

Morris leads all rookies and is fifth overall in rushing with 376 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Martin is 16th with 247 rushing yards and is averaging 3.5 yards.

Schiano saw Morris rip off a 39-yard run for a touchdown. He broke five tackles on the day, significantly contributing to 16 the Bucs missed, which was one off their season high in 2011.

According to Pro Football Focus, Morris ranks second in the NFL with 16 tackles broken and 10th at 2.8 yards after contact per attempt.

Seattle's Marshawn Lynch is first, forcing 21 missed tackles. Martin is tied for 15th with seven missed tackles, and his 2.2 yards after contact rank 25th.

Schiano says any NFL ball carrier can get through a hole and that you judge running backs by special criteria.

"What do you do after the initial play; can I make someone miss? Can I run over someone? What are you making on your own," Schiano said. "What are you creating as a running back? That's where I would like to see us continue to grow. The front part, let's make sure we have the guys who can create some daylight."

One of Martin's biggest boosters is Carl Nicks, the Bucs' high-priced offensive guard who was supposed to be the spark that would ignite the running game. He takes responsibility that Martin's longest run this year is 17 yards.

"We have to execute our blocks better to help those guys (Martin and Blount). They both have talent," Nicks said. "It's just a matter of time for that guy (Martin) to break one. He is so quick and explosive. He hasn't been able to do that yet, and you gotta say it's because of the scheme of the defense and maybe the offensive line wasn't doing their job. We like to put it on our back."

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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