Since he was chosen last Saturday with the 131st overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, much of the discussion about Blake Martinez has been about his coverage ability. When the Green Bay Packers made him a fourth-round pick and the only inside linebacker in their draft class, it was apparent that they identified the coverage aspect as a priority to improve the position as opposed to a player who can necessarily play on all three downs from his first day.
Martinez himself appears to have a clear idea of the expectations that are quickly being placed on him in that regard as he began his NFL career this weekend at the Packers' rookie minicamp. In discussing his strengths with the media following Saturday's practice, Martinez reflected on what kept him on the field for nearly every defensive snap at Stanford:
"I think it was just my athletic ability, just being able to play in space, cover guys," Martinez said. "This last year I took that prominent role of being that cover guy, so I was in there in our dime packages and doing those things." And while Martinez likely will not be pressed into action in the Packers' base defense early on, his conditioning is a point of pride: "I told my coaches (in spring practices) I do not want to come out. The only time you take me out is when we're up by 40 and you want to get those young guys some reps."
If Martinez hopes to become an every-down linebacker at the NFL level, however, he has already identified the areas on which he needs to work. Minicamp is the very beginning of a player's career, but he is already working on the little things that can help him in other phases of the game, saying "the big thing I want to get better at is just technique on getting off blocks. In college I was able to be one, two steps ahead of guys, and kind of get there before a blocker can get to me." He also mentioned the difference in speed from the college to the NFL levels, noting that this will be a challenge for anyone making that transition.
As far as starting his career with the Packers, Martinez referred to his arrival as "an unbelievable opportunity" and said that he has been "dreaming of this since I was six years old and to have that opportunity with such a great franchise and great organization, it's such an honor." The moment that flipped the switch for him and made him realize that his NFL dream had come true, however, was when he arrived in the locker room for the first time on Friday to see his name above a stall: "I literally got chills going down my whole body," Martinez said. "I was like 'wow, this is the real deal and it's time to perform.'"
Signing his contract early on was never going to be an issue for Martinez, nor for his agent. Martinez noted that it was primarily his agent who told him to "make sure (he) was all situated" prior to stepping on the field, but he joked that he told his agent "that's why I have you!"
Finally, unlike first-round pick Kenny Clark, who will need to miss some time during OTAs while his school year finishes up, Martinez is already graduated and will not miss a beat or a practice this offseason for academic reasons. He even noted that this was a factor for him over the past few years, saying "That was my main thing, if I had the opportunity to play in the NFL, I wanted to make sure I took summer school each year and graduated early."
All in all, Martinez continues to paint a picture of an intelligent young man who will bring that quality to his football career as well. Hopefully he will be a mainstay in the Packers' sub packages and perhaps on base downs as well in the next several years.