Stanford’s Peter Hansen knows a little something about what an NFL linebacker should look like.
From 2011 through 2013, Hansen was a member of the San Francisco 49ers’ coaching staff. In 2011, Hansen worked with star inside linebackers Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman. He then moved to outside linebackers, where his standout performers were Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith.
So, his word shouldn’t be taken lightly when asked about his former pupil, inside linebacker Blake Martinez, the Green Bay Packers’ fourth-round pick last week. Schooled in the wide-open, spread-the-field Pac-12 Conference and with a blend of athleticism and proven production, he’s got a shot to be an immediate contributor for the Packers.
“I don’t have any doubt personally,” Hansen said on Wednesday. “You see on film kind of an all-around guy. There’s not really a lot of things that jump out. The Ohio State kid (Darron Lee) ran like a 4.4 40. He doesn’t jump 40 inches. But he had solid numbers in both those areas and, on film, he’s a solid tackler. For us, he was an excellent knock-back tackler. You may find guys — like the (Reggie) Ragland kid will just blow people up — but he’s kind of all-around. He’s good at a little bit of everything. I actually think that now, getting away from school and all the units he took as a senior, I think being able to focus on football, he’s really going to skyrocket his game. I’m excited to see what happens with him.”
Martinez was a two-year starter and the every-down inside linebacker as a senior, when he was a finalist for the Butkus Award, which goes to the nation’s top linebacker. As a second-team All-American, Martinez piled up 141 tackles — 84 more tackles than the Cardinal’s second-leading tackler and 29 more than the second- and third-leading tacklers combined.
The key for Martinez landing a role as a rookie, however, will be his play in pass coverage. It’s a spot where neither of the incumbent inside linebackers, Sam Barrington (eight career starts) and Jake Ryan (five career starts), have shown they can consistently excel.
Athletically, he has the goods. In the 20-yard shuttle, the key measuring stick for change-of-direction agility, Martinez was clocked in 4.20 seconds — tied with Lee for the third-fastest mark.
“When he stood out with a bunch of guys that have been training for that specific thing, it shows something,” Hansen said. “I think it shows on film, as well — his change of direction, lateral quickness, things like that.”
His on-the-field performance was excellent, as well. You want toughness? Doubtful to play in the Pac-12 Championship Game against USC due to a badly sprained ankle, Martinez had a sack-strip-recovery that he returned for a touchdown that sent the Cardinal to the Rose Bowl. You want tackles? He had 10-plus stops in eight of 14 games. How about pass defense? Of the top 25 inside linebackers who were healthy for most of last season, Martinez tied for third with seven passes defensed, was sixth with a 55.6 percent completion rate allowed and tied for seventh with 5.7 yards allowed per target, according to our compilation of data from STATS. On passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield, Martinez yielded four completions in 12 targets.
“There were times, if we were more of a zone week for whatever reason in our game plan, he could end up on receivers and he did a great job with that,” Hansen said. “And then there’s times, if we were more man-oriented, we would have him take the tougher of the linebacker covers and handle the better tight end or the better running back, whichever we thought was the toughest matchup. I really think with his ability to flip his hips and change direction and just run flat-out, I think he’ll have a good shot at being good in coverage.”
After the season, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he wanted to move Clay Matthews back to outside linebacker. After the draft, McCarthy said that situation was “fluid.” If Martinez pans out and he earns a role with Barrington and Ryan, Matthews’ role on the outside should be much more stable.
Asked about who the Packers are getting as a person, Hansen said:
“Probably somebody that everyone on the team likes and someone that the coaches would be happy to see walk into their office. Almost want to say happy-go-lucky but he takes things more seriously than that. All-around good guy. It sounds a little too good to be true, I guess, but a great guy to be around.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.