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Blake Martinez's Continued Growth Key To Packers Defense

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Blake Martinez's Continued Growth Key To Packers Defense

Green Bay Packers linebacker Blake Martinez showed nice growth in his production from his rookie season in 2016 to last season.  

Martinez didn't miss a game in 2017 after missing three in 2016.  His tackle total jumped from 69 to 144 and his passes defended doubled, from four to eight.

Exactly how Martinez will be used by new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is not totally known, but he's a young piece to this Packers defense who was always around the ball last season.

As much as Blake improved from year one to year two, there is still room for more growth.  He just turned 24 years old and was entrusted to receive the defensive play calls at times last season.

If Martinez can improve in coverage, it offers the Packers defense more flexibility with how to use guys like Josh Jones, Jaire Alexander, Kentrell Brice and rookie linebacker Oren Burks.  

Ideally the Packers don't want to rush Burks into action if he doesn't prove to be ready and so Martinez becomes an important part of that equation.  In the case of Jones, Alexander and Brice, Pettine can turn them loose to blitz or in run support.

Martinez was drafted by Ted Thompson and may not be one of new general manager Brian Gutekunst's "guys" but he has proven enough in two seasons that he should get plenty of opportunity to be a big contributor.

Continued growth and emergence by Martinez would give a huge boost to a defense that seems poised for a bigger improvement than we've seen in several seasons.


Jason is a freelance writer on staff since 2012 and also co-hosts Pulse of the Pack podcast.  You can follow him on Twitter here

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (31) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

The TKstinator's picture

Wasn’t he one of the highest rated pass coverage LB’s in his draft class?

jeremyjjbrown's picture

Well, exactly which piece of Dom Capers pass defense didn't have issues?

Blake is a nice player but I wouldn't expect him to transcend the unit at this point in time. I am curious to see him in Pettine's scheme.

Handsback's picture

Yes TK, Martinez was rated the best or close to it in pass coverage for all ILBs in that draft.

The TKstinator's picture

I thought so.
He ought to be able to at least hold his own in that department, and continue his (really good?) (elite?) work against the run.

holmesmd's picture

Yes, in the entire D-1. I think he’s just a touch slow to do so in the NFL as I think he’s 10-15 lbs heavier;)

HankScorpio's picture

Martinez is an old school LB in a new school era of the NFL. I think he'll have a big role on the team. But if he's the key to their defense, their pass defense will continue to suffer. He simply does not have the speed and quickness to play a big role in coverage in today's NFL.

I don't think he'll be a 3-down LB that plays 90+% of the snaps. At least, I hope Burks will take some of his snaps in obvious pass downs, especially against teams that use their RBs & TEs heavily in the pass game. Burks was drafted to cover guys like Alvin Kamara. Martinez was drafted to stop the run.

fthisJack's picture

i could see both Burks and Martinez being on the field on third downs.

packerbackerjim's picture

I understand Martinez is a film buff. As a result of his study his quickness will continue to improve. I look forward to Burk getting up to speed (no pun intended) and this will be an interesting set of ILBs to watch. Finally!

kevgk's picture

They drafted Martinez when they had Jake Ryan, secretly one of the most dominant run stuffing ILBs active, and Matthews was still roaming and toying with playing inside. Run stuffing ILBs was not the need behing Martinez's selection. He was drafted to be a pure ILB simply because he is good against the run, serviceable against the pass, and a great tackler. Burks' selection was to stop the pass because they wanted to move on from Joe Thomas and needed more pass coverage from the ILBs with their scheme.

Nick Perry's picture

The man went from 69 to 144 tackles, 4 passes defensed to 8, AND he played EVERY game.... I don't know what my fellow CHTV fans think but if ALL the Packers 2nd and 3rd year players were to make jumps like that this defense is going to get good really, really fast.

IMO Martinez had a damn fine season in 2017. I think he continues to get better and that includes in coverage until Burks gets up to speed. He may not be everything we need in an ILB but could you imagine the Packers defense without him? The man is smart as hell and in football smarts matter. I'm looking forward to more improvement from Martinez this year.

RCPackerFan's picture

Simply put Martinez is a tackling machine. Martinez has good speed and has some decent to good coverage ability. The thing that I liked most about Martinez was when he tackled a player, he tackled them. He didn't go for the knock out hit and miss a tackle. Getting the player down to the ground is the most important part for a LB that is overlooked.

One thing that really helped Martinez was playing behind the DL that they have. And that DL looks like it possibly just got better with Wilkerson. If Clark continues to improve Martinez could become even better. We don't know how Martinez will be used in Pettine's scheme but we have to believe he will be an integral part of the defense.

What I am really curious to see is who will line up next to Martinez. Will they have Mathews playing next to him more? Will they have a combination of Ryan and Burks, or either or? Will they have Josh Jones playing by him a lot? If Burks can come in and at least provide another player that can cover in passing situations that could really allow Martinez to be used in more ways.

I can't wait to see what this defense will look like, and Martinez is one of the guys I am looking forward to seeing how they are used.

HankScorpio's picture

"Will they have a combination of Ryan and Burks, or either or? "

I hope Ryan is not on the 53. I'm sure he's a good guy and I have nothing against him personally. He just doesn't have the foot speed for today's NFL. Like Gute said at his intro presser, once you figure out a guy cannot play, you have to cut the cord. Hundley and Ryan are the poster boys for that statement, in my book,

RCPackerFan's picture

I tend to agree. I think Ryan is an ok run down defender. But he can't play in coverage. If he were to make it ideally he would split the position with Burks. Ryan gets run downs and situations and Burks get passing downs and situations.

One area though that we didn't see much from him was as a pass rusher. Under Capers former years he used to rush the ILB's a lot more. The last few years he didn't. I wonder if he may do well there. As a former DE he might have some skills to rush. I just don't know because I haven't seen enough of it. With Pettine calling more blitzes he might get more opportunities.

But there is a chance he doesn't make the 53.

dobber's picture

You hit on a very good point in that Ryan played both on the inside and the outside at Michigan. Over his college years, he totaled 9.5 sacks (remembering that he lost half his jr. year to an ACL) and played on the other side of the LOS regularly. I'm not saying he's a panacaea for the pass rush in GB, or that this really is anything he can do at the NFL level, but we talk about how Dom couldn't get the best out of his guys and Ryan may have some flexibility that we haven't seen utilized.

Lare's picture

Even in obvious passing plays you need to have one ILB staying around the LOS to cover draw plays, screen passes and QB scrambles. Having speedy guys like Jones and Burks in the middle covering slants, RB' and TE's should greatly help them get off the field on 3rd down plays and in the red zone.

dobber's picture

I don't think it's a matter of footspeed. Combine results are always a lousy indicator of play speed, but Ryan times in the same ballpark as CMIII and a little better than Martinez. Matter of fact, his test numbers certainly indicate he is (or at least WAS) a similar athlete to Martinez (certainly more explosive) and not that far behind CMIIIs combine numbers.

I think the key is really in instincts and anticipation. I don't think Ryan has the ability to read and diagnose the same way that Martinez does. Maybe that's just a function of how Ryan was used. I'm just not as down on Ryan as many people here seem to be. I think if Martinez got hurt, he'd be a solid backup in that early down role...which will likely keep him around.

CJ Bauckham's picture

I agree Dobber. Ryan is an avg to just below avg starter.. but he is excellent depth. And excellent depth makes an excellent team

HankScorpio's picture

I dunno, I guess I just don't see anything in Ryan.

I hope the people that are bigger fans of Ryan than me are right and I'm wrong. Wouldn't be the first time. And won't be the last.

Rak47's picture

I'm not sure where to go on Ryan because I'm of the mind that Capers scheme was outdated, overcomplex, and did not put players in the best position to be successful waay too often. I also think with the defenses new mantra "KILL" ," Keep It Likeable and Learnable", players like Ryan, Hawkins, and a couple of others should be better evaluated in Pettine's scheme which I would think will be more successful putting players at their best positions. I say give Ryan and Hawkins, Pipkins another year to better evaluate what they can offer the Packers future. That is if they make the final 53 coming out of camp.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I am a fan of Jake Ryan. I think he can play in the NFL. I am not as big a fan of his $2.02M cap hit. At that price, he needs to play a little better. He doesn't have to play much better since I think he is good depth. I tend to think he is worth keeping around.

4thand1's picture

We have a play maker that everyone was clamoring for.

worztik's picture

We should be careful about cutting players before we see any of these guys in Pettine’s system! I understand that speed is a huge factor in how well a player can contribute, however, a player friendly system can improve a player in many ways, as well. I’m taking a wait and see approach to many of our current players with a few obvious exceptions, like Goodson and Hundley to just name a couple! Trevor may be gone as well as a number of second rate DBs and ST players as we bring in more speed and better athletes! I’m excited to see our final product that Gute puts on the field... can’t wait!!! Just sayin’...;-)

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

I like Martinez. Highly productive, and ideal for commanding the D.

But we really need an enforcer out there next to him--someone who strikes fear. Burks isn't that guy, though I see him as a solid upgrade in coverage.

Maybe the physicality can come from other areas. The line has some pretty scary dudes (especially Clark, IMO). Jones is a human missile looking for targets, if Pettine can pretty much do the opposite of everything Capers did in using him.

And maybe that's the biggest key of all: Pettine. Simply by virtue of not being Capers--whom, I must remind everyone, MCCARTHY KEPT FOR YEARS WITH HORRIFIC RESULTS--Pettine can't help but improve this pillowy soft unit's physicality. I swear, Barry Manilow could improve this unit's physicality.

But they'll all be thinking less and flying around more, which means they might actually hit someone. After the past few years--WHICH MIGHT I ADD, WERE OVERSEEN BY MCCARTHY--I'll accept anything.

But Martinez? He's the glue that keeps all this from derailing. He's critical. Good player.

fthisJack's picture

i think the league is getting away from the ILB that strikes fear into the hearts of men. thumpers are becoming dinosaurs. the trend seems to be speed to cover RB and TE and track sideline to sideline and being a sure tackler.

TJ Coon's picture

Simple. Blake is a yay and Jake is a nay.

4thand1's picture

All we need to do is find the players that got lost in Dom's system. I'd be willing to bet Dom was about as inspirational as that guy in "The Natural" who was hired to motivate the team. Roy Dobb's walked out saying "this is bullshit".

Finwiz's picture

Now that there's some FUNNY stuff!

I can just picture one of Capers defensive game plan meetings, and guys chins hitting their chest.

dobber's picture a contagious as polio...

Since '61's picture

I think that Martinez and Burks will be our best ILB combination since forever. As long as we manage our expectations and remember that Martinez ain't no Nitschke.

Also we need to have some depth at this position group besides Ryan who is a marginal player at best. As of today it looks like Martinez and Burks will be backed up by scrubs and that might be an insult to scrubs. Thanks, Since '61

Packer Fan's picture

I like Martinez. He is still improving. He like Clark are rising stars. I hope he does really well.

Bedrock's picture

Any defender of last year that is looked at in isolation, that is, without the context of Caper’s “let’s confuse ourselves in the hopes it confuses the offense” scheme... is seen in the wrong light.

Let’s reserve any predictions for a bit...or at least keep in mind Capers messed some of these guys up. Some of them were given way too much to think about. Perhaps that’s true of Ryan, Clinton-Dix, any CB, etc.

Let’s see what good coordination can bring out of them.

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