Martin speaks, but withholds the details

by Gary Shelton on May 26, 2017 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Martin will miss next season's first three games./JEFFREY KING

Martin will miss next season's first three games./JEFFREY KING

Friday, 4 a.m.

He darted around the first question. He dodged the second one. There in the open field, he juked around the third.

With Doug Martin, this counts as progress. After a year when he didn't evade anyone, he has returned to being  elusive.

Martin, the beleaguered running back of the Tampa Bay Bucs, stood on the field Thursday and tried, as hard as he could, to give as little depth as possible in his answers about the drug tests that will cost him the first three games of this season. He just wants you to know that he's better now. Really.

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Martin says he's physically and mentally stronger./JEFFREY S. KING

Martin was asked how long he was in rehab. He wouldn't tell. He was asked exactly what drug put him there to start with. He wouldn't say which rehab center he visited.

And so it is with Martin, who leads the NFL in doubts, as he attempts his comeback.

"It was a journey these past few months with the statement and having to go get help,” Martin said. “It was a good journey of self-development and I learned a lot about myself and I got stronger. I’ve had the support of my family, friends and fans and my teammates all around and I’m happy to be back here.”

And so it went. Martin says he's stronger. He says his problem is behind him. But he offers no details, which helps make him a difficult man to trust. That can't come until Week Four, until he takes the field again and we will see if he is Doug the good or Doug the invisible.

But consider this: If Martin had told you exactly the length of his stay and the reason for it and who his roommates were, you might have eaten up the details, but you still would not have trusted him until he was again an elite player.

In the NFL, that's the only proof that counts. Letting a team down is that way; it takes proof until a guy can restore his good graces. This isn't an ankle sprain.

Yes, he could have come out and fallen on his sword.  He could have  told you the color of the rehab room and the shock of being there. He could have  told you what kind of drug he liked. He could have said he knew he had to prove himself all over again. He could have admitted he was darn lucky the Bucs didn't move on from him when they had a chance. He could have felt as if he let his team down.

That would have played well ... for a while.

And then you get right back to the core of a suspension. If Martin is a good back again, his fans will cheer. If he isn't, they won't.

"I think just from my own experience, when Doug is practicing like this, when he’s finishing plays, when he’s got that burst, got that pep in his step, it’s carried over to the field,” said Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter. “We have a ways to go, we’ve got to get through preseason. We’ve got to get through preseason games healthy, Doug has got to stay healthy. There’s more things that have to happen. Again, time is on our side. I know everyone wants to know, they’re eager to know. There’s just nothing to know right now, we’ve just got to wait this out.”

Most of the off-season, the Bucs seemed to put their faith in Martin's return.  If anything, perhaps they believed more than they should have.

They didn't fish for a running back in free agency. They took Boise State's Jeremy McNichols, but not until the fifth round. For a team that has loaded up on offense, Martin still seems to be the top threat at running back, and the Bucs' passing game has worked best off of play-action.

If it helps, you can hold on tight to your doubts. It's easy. Talk about his drug suspension. About the fact that three of his five seasons have been underachieving. About his average of only 2.9 yards per carry last year. About missing three more games.

Or you can wait and see about a guy who had a problem.

"I definitely turned a negative into a positive and I’m out here and I’m definitely a stronger person because of it,” Martin said.

Try again. How long was he in rehab? "I was there long enough," he said. "I was there long enough. I was there to the point where I’m strong now, mentally strong and physically strong.”

What did he test for? “I’m not going into detail right now about it, but I can tell you that I am a lot better right now.”

Is this something he deals with every day?  “Not at all, not at all. I was fine because when I went through treatment, they prepared me for everything that I’m dealing with right now and it’s a piece of cake right now.”

Instead, Martin said simply that his problems were behind him, which seems a little, well, easy. “It’s behind me. It is definitely behind me. I’m just coming out here and just doing what I do. So, I am just coming out here and just practicing, my best and doing my best to help this team.”

Perhaps the Bucs instructed Martin not to talk about the details.  Perhaps it was Martin's idea. Perhaps he was still embarrassed over the positive test.

Still, the use of drugs is a deceitful act that betrayed a team. If a player is going to stop the drugs, shouldn't he stop the deceit? And without coming clean, trust is something he eventually will have to regain on the field.

Past drug users have cautioned against others treating a rehab center as it it was a car wash. Martin may be different. Perhaps his problems are behind him. But he has to prove that, particularly if he doesn't want to offer details. You can't show up with three-fourths of your suspension in front of you and expect everyone to accept your problems are behind you.

For Martin, it's still third-and-long. He still needs a breakaway run. He needs proof.

That can only come in the fall.

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