With a perennially youth oriented team like the Green Bay Packers, there is a certain inevitability. From time to time, rookies will have to step in and make a significant impact from day one. This is not the rookie that has to step in because a veteran player goes down, this is a rookie that has to get up to the speed of the NFL game, absorb all the installs and concepts, and limit mistakes from week one through the playoffs. The Packers have been able to do this in the past with guys like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Randall and Rollins. This year may be no different.
In the absence of Sam Barrington, Blake Martinez has been taking first-team reps for the Packers since he set foot on Nitschke Field. If he pans out the way Ha-Ha and Randall did, he will be yet another home run for Ted Thompson. But Martinez still has work to do and he and Jake Ryan may become the newest “youngest” tandem on the field for the Pack in 2016. I’m not one to count Barrington out, but Blake Martinez has a wide open door this year for several reasons:
1. An extra pre-season game
While the pre-season is a risky bore for veterans…it is rife with possibilities for guys like Martinez. Tomorrow night, Martinez takes the field in live action against pro opponents and those reps are absolutely critical to his overall readiness to take the field on September 11 if called upon to do so. I will be watching Martinez to see if he is in position, if he tackles as surely as he did in college and also how he performs when called upon to cover, which has been the Packers’ ILB bugaboo for years.
Getting out and playing early this year will be great for Martinez. Will he make mistakes? Yes. But that amounts to video footage which in turn amounts to corrections, which in turn amount to improvement. Martinez is definitely one of those guys who stands to gain from having that extra pre-season game.
2. They call him “Machinez”…
Tackling is quickly becoming a lost art in football. There is more “hitting with an expected fall” than tackling often times and this has hurt the Packers (as well as other teams) in the past. While it remains to be seen whether Blake Martinez can truly handle RB’s like Adrian Peterson, his love for tackling would indicate that he is a strong contender to shore up the middle of the field against offenses that will surely test him.
At Family Night, I was impressed with Blake’s size…he is the one who talked about trying to look like Clay Matthews or Julius Peppers on the field and he does look the part. If he is fast enough to cover and is a beast of a tackler like he was in college…it will pay dividends for the Packers.
3. He’s fresh as a daisy…
One of the reasons these young players succeed is the very fact that they are young. If he pulls a starting role…Blake will be sore to the core by the time the Packers’ season ends. But between here and there he is a guy who is trying to make his way in the NFL world and can enter into that role with wide eyes and fresh legs. Martinez’s bones have yet to be quivered by an Adrian Peterson hit, his sinews have not been stretched by the over-reaching attempt to deflect a pass to Eric Ebron.
In short, Mike McCarthy has said that it is a young man’s game and it is (Julius Peppers not withstanding) and Blake Martinez is a young man with extra reps and a lot of potential. If Martinez can take advantage of this, he may not only secure a roster spot, but may be a starter and much-needed asset to a team that has been looking for an exit (ILB) strategy for Clay Matthews for almost two seasons.
While there is a lot of football still to be played. Blake Martinez has an open door in front of him. Hopefully, he runs through it…and tackles the heck out of anything on the other side. He is one of the guys I will be watching very closely in the pre-season HOF game against the Colts. Stay tuned for analysis of his actual performance in live play. In the meantime, enjoy the enshrinement of Brett Favre tonight and the game tomorrow.