TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — An incredulous expression spread across Jameis Winston’s face.
Yes, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers face a difficult challenge of getting themselves back on track without injured leading rusher Doug Martin. However the young quarterback is confident the team is more than capable of winning while the two-time Pro Bowl running back is out.
“Doug Martin means a lot to this team. … He’s one of our best players,” Winston said Wednesday as the Bucs (1-1) began preparation for Sunday’s home opener against the Los Angeles Rams (1-1).
Martin injured his right hamstring during the first half of last week’s 40-7 loss at Arizona. He’s expected to be sidelined at least three weeks.
In his absence, backups Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers, who’s only been with the team for a week, figure to assume a heavier workload.
Sims accounted for 1,090 all-purpose yards in 2015, but mainly has been a situational, change-of-pace back.
Rodgers has started five of 69 games he’s appeared in during a six-year career that’s included stints with the Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears. He made his debut for the Bucs last Sunday, breaking a 24-yard run on his first carry and finishing with a team-best 29 yards on two attempts against the Cardinals.
“Chuck is a playmaker and Jacquizz made some great runs (last week),” Winston said. “I’m looking forward to seeing them in a full-game atmosphere.”
Martin was the NFL’s second-leading rusher behind Adrian Peterson a year ago, when he ran for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns. Meanwhile, Sims rushed for 529 yards and gained another 561 yards on 51 receptions to give the Bucs a nice one-two tandem.
Martin, who signed a five-year, $35 million contract during the offseason, is a two-time 1,000-yard rusher effective running between the tackles as well as in the open field.
The 6-foot, 213-pound Sims has more of an upright running style that serves him best when the Bucs are able to get him the ball in open space. The third-year pro has never carried more than 13 times in a game, raising the question whether he’s capable of being a featured back.
Coach Dirk Koetter and offensive coordinator Todd Monken are confident he can handle the role.
“Chuck’s been here long enough and has earned the opportunity,” Monken said.
“There certainly are things that Chuck does differently than Doug. Every running back does,” Monken added. “There are a few things we may have to do a little bit differently, but really we have to be who we are. … We anticipate him playing well, and we’ve got to play well around him.”
Martin wasn’t alone in sitting out practice Wednesday. Defensive end Robert Ayers (ankle), receiver Cecil Shorts III, left tackle Donovan Smith (hip) and tight end Luke Stocker (ankle) are all on the injury report after facing the Cardinals.
Koetter offered little in the way of an injury update, especially on Martin, who rushed for 85 yards on 25 carries the past two weeks.
“I’m sure you can understand my point of view is I’m not going to sit up here and tell our opponents everything we’re going to do,” the coach said after practice.
On Monday, though, he acknowledged that playing without Martin would impact the offense significantly.
“Even though we feel like we have really good backups at that positon … when you take a top-level player out, you usually don’t have exactly the same caliber player behind him,” Koetter said. “It definitely hurts you, but that’s the NFL.”
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