ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Buccaneers running back Doug Martin will be the first to tell you that if there is a weakness to his game, it’s catching the ball out of the backfield.
That’s why he spends a portion of every practice catching an array of passes from an assistant coach.
“I have him throw me high balls, low balls, everything,” Smith said. “It’s something I’ve really worked hard at, and I think I’m doing a really good job catching the ball right now.”
Bucs coach Lovie Smith agrees. He went into the draft so concerned about Martin’s pass-catching skills that he ordered general manager Jason Licht to use the team’s third-round pick on running back Charles Sims.
It was Sims’ pass-catching skills that made him so attractive, but Sims will miss at least three months with an ankle injury that required surgery.
The Bucs, however, are not worried.
Martin’s improved pass catching skills, which he displayed early in Saturday’s preseason game against the Bills when he caught a 21-yard pass to set up his own 1-yard touchdown run, are the reason.
“Just from watching him in practice, I can see that Doug is catching the ball a lot better,’’ Smith said. “And we are going to ask him to catch the ball out of the backfield for us.
“Of course, the first thing for our tailbacks is they need to get positive yards and make guys miss, or run over them in the open field as runners. We don’t get off the bus passing the football.’’
Little big man
One of the hardest things a young player has to do in the NFL is earn the respect of his teammates. Rookie wide receiver Solomon Patton might have achieved that objective in just a few short plays last week.
Patton proved himself a viable kick and punt return option during the 20-14 loss to the Dolphins when he returned three kicks for 91 yards and three punts for 32.
Equally important, though, is the fact Patton ran his 5-foot-9, 177-pound frame into a 2,000-pound pile of would-be tacklers.
“I pulled up one highlight from the kickoff returns where (left tackle) Anthony Collins and (right tackle) Demar Dotson were the first two guys to go over there and congratulate him,’’ Smith said.
“You have to earn your respect in the league and he’s starting to do that by just how he’s playing. Again, this is just one game. But you have to be fearless.
“And I pointed Solomon out in our meeting. I asked him how much he weighed. He said 176 pounds. That’s not really threatening anyone a whole lot. But it’s how he hit it in there.’’
The massive two-stage purge of talent from NFL rosters is about to begin. All teams need to reduce rosters from 90 to 75 players by Tuesday and from there to 53 players by Saturday.
As usual, the process will spark loads of speculation from fans trying to guess the final makeup of their favorite team’s roster. Smith warns, though, Bucs fans might have a hard time figuring out Tampa Bay’s final roster.
“You have starters and backups and then of course special teams guys come into play,’’ Smith said. “But we have wild cards, too, and right now you probably have the numbers pretty much in your mind of what we’re going to do at every position. But don’t lock into those numbers.
“There are positions you need, but then you have a couple of wild cards where you can go either way. And the wild card comes into play based on guys that are just good football players. And we will use that. So (the final roster) may not be what you’re thinking.’’