Is a Return of the Muscle Hamster coming for the Raiders?

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Make no mistake about it, Marshawn Lynch is the bellcow back for the Oakland Raiders as they prepare for their first minicamp under Jon Gruden.

About that ...

Ask Gruden about Lynch and the conversation quickly turns as Gruden cannot say enough good things about Doug Martin. Yes, that Doug Martin. And indeed, Gruden is well aware that Martin has averaged a mere 2.9 yards per carry the past two seasons, thank you very much.

Martin has been impressive in offseason workouts and maybe, just maybe, Gruden sees a little Tyrone Wheatley and Charlie Garner (Thunder and Lightning) in Lynch and Martin?

That would make for a Return of the Muscle Hamster, and that would be unique for a 29-year-old running back who is itching to prove he is still the two-time Pro Bowler, as he was in his first four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and not the afterthought he was the past two years.

Martin is hoping a homecoming will help.

"The last time I played here was with the Bucs in 2012," said Martin, who was born in Oakland but grew up some 70 miles away in Stockton. "I had a fabulous game. I had like 50 family fans in the crowd. That type of energy just brings the best out of me. I'm kind of excited to see what this year is going to bring me."

Fabulous? And then some. Martin rumbled for 251 yards and four touchdowns, in one half, on 25 carries in Tampa Bay's 42-34 victory on Nov. 4, 2012.

Martin finished that rookie season with 1,454 yards rushing and 11 TDs, while catching a career-best 49 passes for 472 yards and a score.

Injuries and ineffectiveness limited him to a combined 17 games over the next two seasons before Martin rebounded with a 1,402-yard rushing season with six TDs in 2015, and he was named first-team All Pro.

The stage was set for bigger things, right?

"The past couple of years I just got in my own way," Martin said. "Being here and having my family around and old friends, it's definitely going to help me stay busy. I can always confide in them if I need something to talk about."

Martin was slapped with a four-game suspension at the end of the 2016 season that extended into 2017 for violating the league's substance abuse policy, reportedly for Adderall, and said he was going to enter rehab shortly thereafter.

Last season, he rushed for a career-low 406 yards, and the Buccaneers cut the 2012 first-round pick on Feb. 20. Three weeks and two days later, Gruden and the Raiders pounced with a prove-it one-year, $1.475 million contract with a base salary of $850,000.

"Doug has really jumped out in this camp," Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "His quickness, his ability to pick up the offense and what we've given him, that's been very encouraging. He really has a fresh set of legs and that's probably been most encouraging."

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr spoke of Martin's "work ethic" as standing out to him.

"With running backs, you're going to see the most out of them when the pads come on [but] everything we've seen of Doug is awesome," Carr said. "... He finished a run to the end zone [during OTAs] and didn't stop until he got there and then he ran back to make sure he's getting even more in shape. It's little things like that that show young guys, 'Hey, man, that's how you do it.'"

This, however, isn't something that has gone well for the Raiders in the past.

In 2014, Oakland signed Maurice Jones-Drew. All that got the Raiders was 96 yards on 43 carries in 12 games.

Difference is, a done Jones-Drew was signed that year to be the lead back; Martin is here to supplement Lynch, rather than supplant him. At least, in June.

So who might Martin more favorably compare to when it comes to being a back, approaching 30, whose best days are probably behind him?

ESPN Stats & Information found three recent players in similar situations: running backs close to 30, coming off career-low seasons and going to new teams:

LaDanian Tomlinson: After recording career lows (at the time) in rush yards (730) and yards per rush (3.3) in his last season with the San Diego Chargers, he rushed for 914 yards on 4.2 yards per carry in his age 31 season with the New York Jets. The future Hall of Famer, though, would play only one more season.

DeAngelo Williams: He recorded career lows in rushing yards (219) and yards per rush (3.5) in his last season with the Carolina Panthers (his age 31 season) while missing several games because of injury. Then went to the Pittsburgh Steelers and rushed for 907 yards, capitalizing on the suspension of Le'Veon Bell. But, like Tomlinson, he lasted only more season after that.

Chris Johnson: He changed teams twice but his last season with the Tennessee Titans and 2013 was his age 28 season, and he posted a career-low (at the time) 3.9 yards per carry. He then went to the Jets, and rushed for 663 yards, averaged 4.3 yards per carry, behind Chris Ivory. The next year, he signed with the Arizona Cardinals during training camp and rushed for 814 yards that season (2015 -- his age 30 season). He has been on and off the Cardinals' roster ever since.

If there is a recurring theme, it is that Martin could have above-average production in his first season in Oakland, but it might not be sustainable.

Not that Martin, or the Raiders, is looking too far down the road.

"My approach is just basically, I'm a rookie again," he said. "I have to prove to the team and the players, coaches, that I can be useful on this team. Like I said, I just act like a rookie and go out and play. Play the game that I love."

In the same backfield, it turns out, with a childhood hero in Lynch.

"It's actually the first time that I've actually gotten to know him," Martin said. "I went to a camp, probably in high school, and I watched the Cal game. He walked by me, they let me in the locker room for a little bit, but it's actually the first time that I met him.

"Growing up, I used to watch Marshawn. I just tried to model my game after him. ... Just that hard-nose running. That's probably why Gruden wants me on this team now, because we're so similar in that type of running style."

Thunder and Lightning redux?

"Gruden talks about all the time, it's going to be a potent offense," Martin said with a knowing smile. "I can't tell you what we're going to do, but it's going to be a real potent offense."

Even more so if a certain hamster can still show his muscle.