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Packers' Martinez Bringing Speed, Tenacity to ILB Corps

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Packers' Martinez Bringing Speed, Tenacity to ILB Corps

Playing the modern NFL inside linebacker position nowadays is, to many, considered a lost art. Blake Martinez is an indicator that sometimes, that art just needs the proper canvas.

Hybrid safeties that can function as linebackers -- specifically in defensive coordinator Dom Capers' "nitro" package -- seem to dominate a handful of NFL defenses. Martinez, drafted to the Green Bay Packers in the fourth round of last year's draft is often the lone true inside linebacker in the nitro package, which has a sole purpose of deploying more speed on defense.

Whether it be one of the three versatile safeties in Morgan Burnett, Kentrell Brice or Josh Jones playing in the box as an extra inside linebacker, it'll either be Martinez or Jake Ryan functioning opposite them in base. 

While Jones played 100 percent of the snaps on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, Martinez wasn't far behind at 77 percent. The both of them had the best game of their young careers and led the team in tackles. Jones finished with 12 total and Martinez with 11, including a combined four for a loss. Jones was also responsible for two sacks.

It seemed as if Martinez had officially made that second-year leap coaches often talk so much about. Given how fast he played on defense without hindrance, it could very well lead to a very similar production in terms of snaps Thursday night against the Chicago Bears.

Martinez (50) getting into position before the snap against the Seattle Seahawks. (Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports)

"Now I can just trust it, trust shooting the gap or going in and understanding where I line up, I'll know exactly where the guy in front of me is going to play," Martinez said after Wednesday's practice in which the team prepared for Chicago. "All the experiences that I've had has allowed me to trust it more, and that's allowed me to not think as much this year."

There was one play in particular that showed a flash of Martinez's inexperience, however.

On a 2nd and goal at the Green Bay 6-yard line early in the second quarter, both Martinez and Jones manned down the middle of the field. Jones was assigned to either stay in position or pull into the right flat and Martinez was supposed to spill out into the left flat and cover Bengals running back Giovani Bernard. The miscommunication resulted in Bernard catching a touchdown pass without a defender within 10 yards of him.

It was the rare mistake Martinez was docked for on Sunday, but the rest of his afternoon was filled with highlights. One of which included a crucial open-field tackle on Bengals receiver A.J. Green in the open field and the other was an impressive tackle on running back Joe Mixon on the first play of overtime for a loss of two yards.

Against arguably the top backfield in the NFC North, the Packers won't be able to afford a mistake like that. Not against Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen; two tailbacks who prove as the future of the Bears' running game.

"We kind of look at him like a Darren Sproles-type player," Martinez said. "He's an explosive guy, extremely fast. He kind of does everything for them, and he's a guy they obviously want to get the ball to. It's definitely going to be a huge challenge for us."

Pro Football Focus gave Martinez the third-highest grade on the team for Sunday against the Bengals. This is what they had to say:

"After featuring on 46.4 percent of defensive snaps a year ago, Martinez is up to 75.6 percent through three weeks. This was arguably his most competent performance as a pro, and while not perfect he showed the kind of instincts to ruin a number of running plays. He ended the day with seven defensive stops and renewed belief that he can be a linchpin of this defense for years to come."

Since recording just a couple of tackles in the season-opening win over the Seattle Seahawks, Martinez has tallied 16 total stops and a sack in the last two games. His 12 solo tackles are the most he's recorded in a two-game span in his career.

"It's a huge challenge. I'm excited for it. To be able to go out there and stop those types of running backs... I know last week, we had a great group of running backs in the backfield. Each and every week you look at that as a challenge and you want to stop them."

Martinez has by far played the most snaps (127) than any of his other two inside linebacker colleagues, Jake Ryan (22) and Joe Thomas (33). Ryan missed the week three game against the Bengals due to a concussion.

The only linebacker on the team to have seen the field more than Martinez is Clay Matthews, who has Martinez beat by just 17 snaps.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (12) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

KenEllis's picture

Anyone else shocked to a Packer #50 flashing and making a tackle in the backfield last Sunday?

After years & years of seeing a #50 only making tackles well past the line of scrimmage and never looking fast it was really great witnessing Martinez make plays like a legitimate inside linebacker.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

I am impressed by Martinezs short area explosiveness. Gald to hear he's got the confidence to use it. Hope he has a healthy season.

Handsback's picture

I know this won't be liked by many, but it appears to me that the Packers (Don Capers) don't play their young guys until they are assignment sure. He seems to be conservative in regards to letting his young guys start or play verses the lim itations of the vets. Maybe the initial twins (KK,JJ) along with Martinez will change his attitude going forward.

EdsLaces's picture

Who's Don?

Jonathan Spader's picture

A don is a person who runs the mafia.

Spock's picture

Martinez was coming on strong last year before the injury derailed his season. I'm not surprised at his 2nd year jump. I think the tape on Jones will make it harder for him to match last weeks results as the Bears will be very much aware of him. I still believe both will have a good game and I'm excited to see if King can get his first interception without having to cover an elite receiver! His height, speed and long arms could make him the star of this game. Here's hoping.

Christopher Gennaro's picture

Hopefully that just makes people forget about Martinez and he fills the stat sheet.

Ibleedgreenmore's picture

Very impressed with the kid, not bad covering a TE also he was a good pick up.

Archie's picture

Blake is like found money.

dobber's picture

I agree: any time you find a quality starter in round 4 or later, you're really helping yourself out.

Bure9620's picture

He's played really well, great gap discipline and diagnoses plays well and a sure tackler. He does not play on many packages and Ryan a hardly plays at all, not sure where Jake Ryan fits into this teams plans other than may be special teams.

Christopher Gennaro's picture

may see alot of both ryan and martinez tonite, cause we all know the bears are going to try to run down the packers throat.

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