In the midst of a stellar rookie season, Buccaneers running back Doug Martin has been called the "muscle hamster" – a nickname he hopes soon fades away. "I'm so over it," he said with a laugh.
His head coach, Greg Schiano, prefers to call him Doug. "I don't think Doug likes (muscle hamster)."
Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson called him something else – "the hottest running back in the league."
Martin is the NFL's fourth leading rusher with 862 yards and seven touchdowns. He's rushed for 454 yards over the last three weeks, highlighted by a stunning 251-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Raiders in Week 9.
"Their running back, he's only a rookie and it is scary some of the things that he's doing," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "He's developed into one of the best running backs in this league."
Schiano felt strongly about Martin when Tampa Bay selected the former Boise State running back with the 31st pick in the draft. But even he couldn't have predicted such immediate success.
"Can you ever predict that he was going to have this kind of production after nine games? Probably not," Schiano said in a conference call. "He really is a guy who exemplifies what we're trying to do and what we're trying to build here. That is a really good football player who loves the game but is really a good person too. He's a very special guy."
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera echoed those sentiments.
"He's exactly the player a lot of people envisioned him to be – very versatile running back, runs with a low center of gravity and he's got great vision as far as cutback ability," Rivera said. "He is a dynamic football player that fits exactly what they're looking for."
In the season-opener, Martin ran for 95 yards on 24 carries against Carolina.
The Panthers now rank 15th against the run – surrendering 113 yards per game – and they haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Falcons running back Michael Turner ran for 103 in Week 4.
That's a trend they hope continues against Martin and the Buccaneers Sunday.
"We know it's going to be a tough challenge for us defensively, but we're ready," Munnerlyn said.