Who is the Bucs’ Likely MVP?

The fate of the Buccaneers’ 2015 season rests in the arms of running back Doug Martin. His redemption is the key to Tampa Bay’s return to relevancy.

Make no mistake; the Bucs are not a true playoff team this year. Only the substandard quality of the NFC South gives them any hope of reaching the postseason.

The Bucs defense should improve from last season but still lacks the necessary edge rush to make the Tampa 2 really hum. It won’t be a liability, but the defense is not yet ready to carry the team like the Tony Dungy/Monte Kiffin defenses of old.

The offense remains Tampa Bay’s rubix cube. No one has figured out how to make it any good.

Jameis Winston could be the long-awaited solution, but he’s only a rookie, though it seems many Bucs fans forget that. His renowned football IQ, pocket awareness and ball placement have yet to be tested, much less exhibited in a real NFL game.

Winston is allowed to struggle his rookie year. It’s an inevitability especially with a shaky offensive line that allowed 29 hurries, six hits and five sacks on Tampa’s quarterbacks during the preseason per Pro Football Focus.

The preseason told the tale of two Bucs offensive lines. One was introducing Winston to as many NFL pass-rushers as possible, leading to an abysmal 6.6 yards per pass attempt during the preseason. The other was proving that Doug Martin was indeed back as he averaged 5.9 yards per carry in the same span.

The change in the fourth-year running back is obvious. In 2012, Martin exploded on the scene, running decisively and breaking tackles like a human bowling ball. Since then, he struggled with injuries and general inefficacy. He couldn’t break tackles like he did in 2012 against Vikings in Week 8 or set franchise records as he did in Week 9.

It became clear this preseason that 2012 Doug Martin was back, likely stemming from his offseason weight drop. Per ESPN’s Pat Yasinskas, Martin shed between 205 and 208 pounds this offseason from his playing weight of 215 pounds (despite his 223-pound listed weight).

Over three preseason games, Martin ran the ball 20 times for 118 yards and a touchdown. He was elusive, decisive and explosive – everything he wasn’t in the past two seasons.

Part of Martin’s apparent resurgence is owed to the improved run blocking by the offensive line. While Bucs made personnel changes that improved the line’s overall talent, it’s the addition of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter that makes the biggest difference.

For all intents and purposes, the Bucs didn’t have an offensive coordinator last year. Jeff Tedford never called a game, and his replacement Marcus Arroyo had no NFL experience and very little as an offensive coordinator.

Koetter has seven years experience as an NFL offensive coordinator and is one of the more respected coordinators in the league. He has the coaching acumen to make the Bucs a legitimately respectable offense in the next few years.

It’s no secret Koetter is a fan of Doug Martin. Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds reported in June that it was Koetter that kept Martin with the Bucs this offseason. While most of the team now has Jason Licht and Lovie Smith’s stamp of approval, Martin clearly has Koetter’s.

With offensive line still struggling to mesh in pass protection, Koetter will likely lean on Martin early in the season. It will be up to Martin to carry the offense until the rest of the team can pick up the slack.

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