The third game of the NFL preseason is supposed to be a dress rehearsal for the real thing.
But the only thing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be happy about in Saturday night's 31-7 loss to Cleveland was that Doug Martin dressed out.
For Martin, it comes down to 4 pounds and a mindset.
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Just a few years ago, the running back was being called the second coming of Barry Sanders. As a rookie in 2012, Martin racked up 1,926 yards from scrimmage and more than 1,450 yards rushing. Unfortunately, he fizzled quickly after the season, and we haven't seen him since -- until recently.
His 2013 and '14 seasons were forgettable. He looked a little out of shape, his desire had waned, and there were some injuries.
Now Martin is hungry and lighter, and less is more for the Boise State product.
"The 4 pounds does make a difference," Martin says. "It's (also) a mindset going into the season and the vibe that's going on around
here. I do feel quicker. Yeah, I do."
The Bucs refused to pick up the fifth-year option on Martin so he had to feel a little lighter in the wallet, which can be a better motivator than any Vince Lombardi speech.
"I am not going to lie, it's in the back of my mind, but that's something that you can't let creep up to the front because that's just going to distract me," Martin says.
His value was evident Saturday night picking up 40 yards on nine carries that included a vintage version of himself when he broke free for a 19-yard touchdown that showed the speed and burst he displayed as a rookie.
Martin did it against a good Cleveland defense that seemed inspired and got off to a quick start by returning the Bucs first punt for a touchdown.
"We didn't have a fast start. The turnover didn't help us at all," said Bucs head coach Lovie Smith. "You can't give up a punt return like that. We started playing better football by the end of the first half."
Martin can be invaluable to rookie quarterback Jameis Winston, who had a rough first half, completing 6 of 14 passes for 78 yards while getting sacked three times and throwing an interception.
Winston has yet to throw a touchdown pass this preseason, and Martin can help take some of that pressure off his quarterback until he learns how to deal with NFL defenses that are going to blitz him unmercifully until he can make them pay.
Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter supplied another dose of motivation for Martin when he reminded him how successful Maurice Jones-Drew was playing at a lighter weight when he coached him in Jacksonville.
"Yeah, I can definitely see why he would say that. You know, I can't run as fast when I have more weight and I got a little leander and a little faster," Martin says. I did have to watch my diet. I couldn't eat the foods I wanted to eat -- but I did eat high protein and carbs for energy. I definitely wanted to shed the weight but also keep my power as well."
The Bucs missed tackles against Cleveland that they made against Cincinnati, and their adrenalin was lower. The biggest worry for the Bucs is Smith exposing Winston to an injury by leaving him in too long in a preseason game when the backups come in.
After getting sacked for the fourth time on the Bucs' first possession of the second half, Winston again was limping on that tender ankle, which forced him out of the Cincinnati game.
Smith pulled him again, and you have to be concerned about that ankle, which means more of a workload for Martin.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.