TAMPA — Doug Martin isn’t just playing for a new contract this season.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ running back is playing to ditch his awesomely terrible nickname once and for all.
“The name ‘Muscle Hamster’ is the worst nickname possibly ever given to somebody,” Martin told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday, leaning into a reporter’s recording device for effect. “I hope it changes, and I hope that I play to a level where my nickname changes. That’s what my goals are.”
Martin has ripped the silly sobriquet since his rookie year in 2012, when he became an instant sensation by racking up 1,926 combined rushing and receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. But that’s been the least of Martin’s problems since.
He missed 15 games over the past two seasons because of injuries, including a shoulder injury that landed him on injured reserve in 2013 and knee and ankle injuries last year. In May, the Bucs declined the fifth-year option for 2016 on Martin’s rookie contract.
“We had a great discussion,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht recalled Wednesday.
“I hit him right between the eyes and said, ‘Hey, before you see this, we’re not picking up your option, but this could be a good thing for you.’ This doesn’t mean that we don’t want you here long-term. It just means basically you have a carrot in front of you right now. Hopefully, we’re sitting here in a few months talking about an extension.'”
So far, so good. In this week’s minicamp, Martin has been the first man up with the starting offense, ahead of Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey and Mike James. His downfield catch against veteran linebacker Bruce Carter was one of Wednesday’s highlights.
His stout 5-foot-9 fame now carries 210 to 212 pounds, compared to around 220 when he arrived here as the 31st overall pick out of Boise State three years ago. Martin also cut his body fat to leave, in his words, “mostly muscle” — which doesn’t sound like such a bad nickname itself.
“I can’t give my own self a nickname. I can’t do it,” Martin said. “You can. Hey, trend it.”
Besides being in the better shape, Licht said Martin has seemed more energetic and outgoing this offseason, going out of his way to talk to Licht and others at the team facility.
That big 2012 season — and ubiquitous usage of the “Muscle Hamster” moniker that spawned T-shirts and Internet memes — feels like five years ago, Martin said. But he said he’s still that player, “if not better, because I’m feeling like that guy right now.”
Doug Martin, that is. Or whatever he’ll end up being called if he can get the wheel spinning again. (Sorry.)
“2012 was a great year and I’ve had injuries and it’s been a roller coaster through my career,” Martin said. “But I have a new start. I feel great. I’m having fun out here, and I know this year’s going to be pretty good.”