Special at what, he wasn't sure, but Martin — who quarterbacked Tennessee to the 1998 national title and was a fifth-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers — knew big things were in store for Randall Cobb.
"Oh, man, from the first time I ever met Randall, I was doing a Nike Elite 11 quarterback camp at Georgia Tech," Martin, who at the time was a high school coach and a coach for the national Elite 11 program, said of the Green Bay Packers' eventual second-round draft pick. "There was something special about the kid. He wasn't a prototypical quarterback. He had some height challenges but he threw the ball well and was very athletic. He was one of those kids where it was like, ‘I should watch out for that guy.' I didn't know he was going to be a quarterback but I knew he was going to be something."
So much so that Martin decided to keep in touch with Cobb through e-mails on Facebook. In 2009, Martin got his first college gig as quarterbacks coach at New Mexico. A year later, the receivers job opened at Kentucky. Martin applied and got the job, then learned first-hand just how special Cobb had become.
Cobb, who started games at quarterback and receiver as a true freshman, was a first-team all-conference player as a sophomore, when he led the team in receiving and solidified his place as one of the nation's most dangerous kick returners.
When Martin arrived, Cobb truly blossomed, earning first-team All-American honors as an all-purpose player and setting a Southeastern Conference record in total yardage.
"He's one of those guys that wants to do everything right," Martin said. "He's not satisfied with just OK or satisfied with being average. He wants to be the best with everything. So, I just kept pushing him a little more, little more, little more and come to find out, this kid would take everything I gave to him. He came to work every day, never complained."
Cobb did everything but sell popcorn for the Wildcats. He led the team with 84 catches for 1,017 yards and seven touchdowns. Even as the focal point for opposing defenses, Cobb caught 68.9 percent of the passes thrown his way. He was the Wildcats' second-leading rusher, mostly as a Wildcat quarterback, with 424 yards and five touchdowns on merely 55 carries for a gaudy 7.7-yard average. Showing his hunger, he converted 5-of-6 third-down carries and all five fourth-down attempts into first downs. Showing the passing skills he displayed as a two-time all-state quarterback, he completed 5-of-10 passes for 58 yards and three touchdowns. And he remained one of the nation's top kick returners, with a 23.7-yard average on kickoffs and his second consecutive year with a touchdown on a punt return.
Mark Zerof/US Presswire
In Green Bay's offense, it's assumed he'd mostly line up as a slot receiver because he's only 5-foot-10. That was Cobb's spot when Kentucky lined up with three and four wide receivers because of a football IQ born from years of playing quarterback. In fact, when talking to scouts, Martin would compare Cobb with his old NFL teammate, Hines Ward, the Steelers ‘ star who played some quarterback at Georgia.
"When (scouts) would evaluate him, they'd see him in the slot a whole lot," Martin said. "I'd explain to them that the slot position in our offense is the position that you have to be the most responsible. We have to be able to trust that guy because he's the closest to the quarterback and he was the one that has the sight adjustment vs. a blitz. When we went to a three-wide set, I didn't want Randall on the outside because I needed that guy to be able to read the blitzes and help the quarterback out. Randall was that guy."
Cobb was so good as a junior that Martin expected him to turn pro. Essentially, he had mastered the game from a physical and mental perspective.
"When he's in the huddle, it was like old hat to him," Martin said. "Maturity-wise last year, he had gotten to a level where he had felt like he had beaten it all. They couldn't beat him with this coverage anymore, they couldn't beat him that coverage anymore. He'd just line up at the line of scrimmage like, ‘OK, I'm a pro.' Whether he was going to get drafted in the first round or the fourth round, he feels like he understands the game on a professional level."
Martin has followed the Packers throughout his career because his left tackle at Tennessee was Chad Clifton. He's heard about Green Bay's close-knit, hard-working, unselfish receiving corps and thinks Cobb will fit right in.
"To me, I know him, and he feels like he's got to show some people some things," Martin said. "He's going to come there with a chip on his shoulder, wanting to show people why he should have gone higher."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.