FOXBOROUGH — For someone who has just 18 NFL games under his belt, Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin sure is getting a lot of attention from the Patriots.
For good reason. The rookie was near the top of the league in a number of offensive categories last year: fifth in rushing yards (1,454), fifth in rushing touchdowns (11), third in yards from scrimmage (1,926). His 251-yard game against the Raiders was the 10th-best rushing day in NFL history.
Not surprisingly, Martin has remained a large part of the Buccaneers’ offense in his sophomore season. Through two games, he has 55 touches (53 rushes, two receptions), and is second in the league with 209 rushing yards, trailing only LeSean McCoy of the Eagles.
Consider the Patriots impressed.
“Good challenge for us to keep him contained and not let him run all over the place, because he is fast,” defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich said after Thursday’s practice. “Similar to [Bills running back C.J.] Spiller, quick guy in space, so you want to keep him bottled up.”
The Patriots did a decent job on Spiller in a 23-21 season-opening win at Buffalo, limiting him to 41 yards on 17 carries. The challenge in slowing the swift back from Boise State on Sunday will be just as difficult.
“He’s one of them,” said Vince Wilfork, when asked if Martin is a defensive focal point. “He’s a good, good football player, a great back who can run, block, catch. We have our hands full with him and [receiver] Vincent Jackson.”
Running back LeGarrette Blount saw Martin’s skill up close, spending last season with the Buccaneers.
“I played with him, he’s a really good running back. He did a lot of things last year that a lot of rookies didn’t do,” Blount said. “He’s a really good player, tough runner, downhill, and has really good balance. He’s definitely one of their best weapons, so it’s going to be hard to contain him.”
Martin started slowly this season, gaining just 65 yards on 27 carries in Week 1 against the Jets. He bounced back last week, rushing for 144 yards (his sixth 100-yard game as a pro) on 29 carries.
“Our line definitely blocked well, and [fullback] Erik Lorig, it was his first game back against the Saints,” Martin said. “That gave a huge advantage to our offense, having him back there and run blocking for us.”
Blount all business
Blount spent the last three seasons with the Buccaneers, rushing for 1,007 yards in 2010, his rookie year. Martin’s emergence perhaps squeezed Blount out — his carries dropped from 201 in 2010 to 41 last season — and brought him to the Patriots, who acquired the 26-year-old in an April trade.
Facing his former team has to stir some emotions in Blount, no?
“I’m a Patriots player now, I don’t play for the Bucs no more,” Blount said, echoing a statement made the day before by another former Tampa Bay player, cornerback Aqib Talib. “I don’t look at them as a former team, I look at them as somebody I’ve got to play against, just like everybody else.”
The teams held a series of joint practices in August before playing an exhibition game, so there is some familiarity for each side with players and schemes. Blount was asked, though, if any of his teammates have asked him this week for a scouting report on the Buccaneers.
“We have scouting reports, so we all know their personnel and habits,” Blount said. “We all watch film, so [teammates] know just about as much as I do.”
Former Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light went on 98.5 The Sports Hub this week and denied making the comment that was attributed to him regarding Aaron Hernandez, who is facing a first-degree murder charge. The Dayton Daily News quoted Light as saying, “I never talk about other guys, but I will say I have never embraced — never believed in — anything Aaron Hernandez stood for.”
In the radio interview, Light also said, “I was in the woods for two weeks at that time working with young people through the foundation. Two weeks in the woods, none of that time talking to a reporter about that situation that played out earlier this year.”
Tom Archdeacon, a columnist/reporter for the Daily News, wrote the story on June 26, and said he was definitely with Light, whom he considers a friend.
“I spent some 4½ hours with him,” Archdeacon wrote on Thursday in an e-mail to the Globe. “He brought the kids from his camp to the Cox Media headquarters for a tour that I set up of the Dayton Daily News and the WHIO-TV studios. He even did an interview live on WHIO that day.
“I bought he, his counselors, and all his kids lunch at our media restaurant. We then took his group to our printing press some 15 miles away in Franklin for another tour. While he was there, he got word his son had broken his arm, and I drove him 75 minutes north to the hospital in Greenville where his boy was. That night he returned to Dayton to throw out the first pitch for the Dayton Dragons game in front of 8,000 people.
“A day or so later he sent me an e-mail thanking me for everything.”
NASCAR star Kyle Busch made an appearance at Gillette Stadium in advance of Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Busch was escorted by Andre Tippett on a tour of The Hall at Patriots Place, then met with several members of the team of the field, where he exchanged team swag with Jerod Mayo, Julian Edelman, Ninkovich, Nate Solder, and Ryan Wendell.
Busch attempted a few field goals, with Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski the holder. “He did good,’’ Gostkowski said politely, when asked about Busch’s failed attempts.
Cornerback Marquice Cole was back at practice, after he was excused from Wednesday’s workout so he could join his wife for the birth of their second child, a daughter. There were no other changes to the injury report; Matthew Slater was out again with a wrist injury, while seven players — receiver Danny Amendola, tight end Rob Gronkowski, running backs Brandon Bolden and Leon Washington, offensive linemen Dan Connolly and Will Svitek, and defensive back Nate Ebner — were limited. For the second straight day, tight end Zach Sudfeld, who missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury, participated fully . . . Defensive end Trevor Scott signed with the Buccaneers in the offseason after spending last year with the Patriots. He’s played in both games and has two tackles . . . One thing that stood out to Ninkovich about Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman when the teams practiced together last month? His height. “He’s a big guy,” Ninkovich said. “I didn’t realize how big he was until you see him in person and you realize that he’s 6-6. He’s a big presence in the pocket.”