Rookie quarterback Joe Callahan stepped up in the pocket and, just as he was about to cross the line of scrimmage, flung a rocket over the middle.
Like a blur, linebacker Blake Martinez raced to the left and got his hand in the path of the ball, with his deflection leading to an incompletion.
Martinez, the first of the Packers’ fourth-round draft picks, was drafted in large part because of how well he played in coverage at Stanford. It’s obviously very early, but Martinez is meeting those expectations.
“I always thought that I had the athletic ability to get out there and go and cover guys,” Martinez said after Wednesday’s practice. “It was the little things I wanted to learn fundamental-wise. ‘OK, what do I need to look at when I’m covering a guy? What can I do to help myself that much more to stay in position and do the right things on each play to help myself and make it that much easier?’ That’s where I feel like (assistant linebackers coach Scott) McCurley has helped me tremendously. It’s been awesome getting his point of views on those types of things and adding it to my game.”
With injuries to Sam Barrington, who opened last season as the every-down inside linebacker, and Joe Thomas, who was brought back to the roster early in the season to be the third-down, pass-coverage inside linebacker, Martinez has been given ample opportunities to show what he can do. He’s taking full advantage.
“Blake, he's done a heck of a job,” coach Mike McCarthy said before Wednesday’s practice. “He feels very natural. As always, you want to see the pads on and so forth, but the thing(s) I've been impressed with (are) the way he's picked it up, the way he communicates. He seems very comfortable in the scheme. But the way he recognizes, he has very good recognition for a young player.”
Because of the injuries, Martinez is working alongside Jake Ryan as the starting tandem in the base defense and splitting the reps with Ryan as the lone inside linebacker in the base defense. When everyone is healthy for the start of training camp, Martinez appears to have done enough to remain firmly in the mix for playing time. One reason for that rapid progress is how well he’s picked up the game.
As you might expect from a Stanford graduate, Martinez is ahead of the game mentally. He frequently consults with Aaron Rodgers to get the quarterback’s perspective on what he’s looking at. Some of those conversations, Martinez said, delved into Rodgers’ famous matchups with former Bears star linebacker Brian Urlacher. (More on that in this story.)
Whether it’s being an every-down linebacker or entering on third-and-long passing situations, Martinez is doing everything he can to be ready to contribute immediately. In a pass-happy league, that means playing pass defense will be vital in determining how much he plays as a rookie.
“Like our coach said today, he wants us to show the entire Packer organization that we should keep our linebackers on the field instead of going to a super-dime where they take all the linebackers out and put in another DB,” Martinez said. “We have to go out there each day and show them that we’re able to do that so they can keep us on the field.”
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.