Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers’ two-time MVP quarterback, rose to greatness in part because of his twice-a-year battles against former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.
Now, it’s Packers rookie linebacker Blake Martinez’s turn, as he hears about Rodgers’ matchups with Urlacher and goes head-to-head at practice against one of the great quarterbacks of the era.
“I talk to Aaron all the time about little tips and cues that he has for me from things he’s gone against,” Martinez said following Wednesday’s practice. “He told me little things he learned from playing against Urlacher that he gave me tips on — little coverage tips and those types of things. It’s been a lot of help just being out there and, all of a sudden, if I make one step to the left, he’s like, ‘It’s this coverage,’ and he’s yelling it out loud and we’re like, ‘Oh, crap.’ The next time, I’m like, ‘Now I need to show something else to him to make sure that he doesn’t see that defense.’”
Martinez arrived with great expectations as the first of the Packers’ fourth-round picks. With Green Bay in need of, at the very least, a difference-making coverage linebacker, it landed Martinez, one of the most athletic and productive inside linebacker prospects in this year’s draft class.
His play thus far hasn’t disappointed — with the obvious caveat of the players haven’t put on the pads and Martinez hasn’t had to tackle anyone. Because of injuries to Sam Barrington and Joe Thomas, Martinez has been running with the starters throughout the offseason and splitting the dime-linebacker snaps with Jake Ryan.
While Rodgers and the veteran players were allowed to skip the minicamp, Martinez reaped the rewards of three weeks or organized team activities with the NFL’s career leader in passer rating. Rodgers, in turn, has been more than happy to help quench Martinez’s thirst for knowledge.
“Once I got here, I was just like, I might get to the point where he’s like, ‘OK, stop talking to me,’ but I’m at least going to take that risk and go at it, take it to the breaking point in asking questions and doing those things,” Martinez said. “So, it’s been awesome, and he’s a great guy. It’s easy to communicate with him and get those little feedbacks on each practice.”
Martinez’s desire to learn the game should come as no surprise. He’s from Stanford, after all, a school known as much for its academics as its athletics. After a long day in the classroom and on the practice field, Martinez said he heads home for another two or three hours of individual study. That routine won’t change much during the rookies’ upcoming monthlong break leading up to training camp. At the end of next week’s rookie symposium, Martinez will go home to Tucson, Ariz., to study with his father, Marc, whom Martinez described as a football junkie.
“I think (the break) will be huge in the mental aspect,” Martinez said. “My goal is right now (is to) focus on both inside linebacker spots, understanding what I need to do, who I'm working with. I'm going to work with Dad and go through and understand the whole entire scheme. Every single play, I'm trying to figure out, 'OK, what is the D-line doing? What are they doing on certain stunts? What (are) the corners doing on certain plays? Do I know if I have help out there?’ And all those little things that are going to help me that much more where I can see everything and I don't have to look backwards and see, ‘OK, is the safety there? I know he’s going to be there on this play.’ And then physically, I think it's going to help a lot. I know four weeks before I got out here, I was hitting it hard in the weight room and trying to get stronger, and I'm trying to come back looking like Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews.”
Martinez’s approach is exactly what the coaching staff expected.
“He’s a very bright, driven kid,” position coach Scott McCurley said. “Very meticulous about his preparation. The good thing when you talk about growth is he does a good job of being able to talk about things in the meeting room, walk through it, and then take it to the field. He can go out and execute things in a hurry. If he’s not clean on it, if he does make a mistake here and there, he has that light that goes on, ‘This is why.’ And he can correct his mistake and clean that up the next time. Right now, he’s tracking to where he needs to be in the offseason and in shorts.”
Martinez has dedicated his life to putting himself in this position. He went from gobbling up peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches as a 265-pound high school freshman defensive lineman to a sleek all-conference linebacker at Stanford. He might be 22, but he’s a wise-beyond-his-years 22. Most rookies are content knowing their role in the defense. Martinez wants to know everyone’s role. Most rookies might be in awe of Rodgers. Martinez can’t wait for his next game of line-of-scrimmage cat and mouse with the MVP quarterback.
“I feel like that’s just my aspect to life in general,” he said. “I’m not a guy that drinks. I haven’t had fast food in like eight years, I haven’t had soda in eight years, and all those types of things. I want to do everything I can now so I don’t have any regrets down the road. So I’m doing ... everything I can to just get that extra step and be in line with all the veterans.”
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.