New Giants LB Blake Martinez seeks to set record straight on his Packers days

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The photograph of Blake Martinez signing his Giants contract in a weight room was a perfect metaphor on Monday for the heavy responsibility the new inside linebacker is expected to shoulder.

Martinez, 26, is reunited with Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, his 2018 Green Bay Packers linebackers coach, on a three-year, $30.75 million deal. His charge: to lead, to communicate, to continue being a tackling machine.

He already has a team-issued iPad to review the Giants’ 2019 game film. And to stay in shape during the coronavirus pandemic, fortunately he is “basically quarantined” in a brand new weight room and addition that his father recently completed on the family’s home in Tuscon.

“There is going to be a lot of freedom for me to make checks, make calls and adjustments on a given play pre-snap to give guys chances to make plays,” Martinez said on a conference call of the role he expects in Graham’s “aggressive” defense. “There is going to be a lot of communication across the board.”

It seemed a bit unusual, then, that Martinez spent a large part of Monday’s call blaming Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme — and outsiders’ misunderstanding of Martinez’s responsibilities within it — for misconceptions about weaknesses in Martinez’s game.

He went into great detail, for example, about how he didn’t have typical inside linebacker gap responsibilities with the Packers and “was taught and told to be the clean up crew guy,” which prevented him from making consistent impact plays you’d expect from an elite linebacker.

“It was just kind of, “Hey, play off (the Packers’ defensive line), Kenny (Clark), play off Za’Darius (Smith), play off Preston (Smith), play off Dean (Lowry)” play off these guys and basically make them right,” Martinez said, naming a defensive front much stronger than the Giants’, including the transformative and dominant Za’Darius Smith of 2019. “They were able to do whatever they wanted to do and then I would go make the plays depending on that.

“I know there’s been (criticisms of Martinez) like you make tackles down the field, you make tackles here, you make tackles there,” he continued. “For the majority of the time there that’s what I was told to do. It’s just me, I guess, doing my job in that sense. Going into this defense, once I learn being whatever it ends up being how we play. I hope I am able to trigger it, solo gaps, do those type of things and make those type of impact plays.”

Martinez also said criticism that he struggles in man-to-man pass coverage is poorly founded because the 2019 Packers played mostly a “match coverage zone” that looks like man but includes passing receivers off to help. So what Martinez called “small communication lapses and misunderstandings” can look to the public, he granted, as one player losing his man when that wasn’t the case.

“Overall, I think I am able to do whatever I’m asked to do,” Martinez said. “I can go and cover tight ends, I can go and cover running backs, I can play in zones, I can do all of the things that you need to do as an inside linebacker.”

Martinez clearly is thrilled to be in an organization that seems to value him and the role he believes he ideally can fill. He cited “the market, obviously Pat Graham and a great young team” as reasons he chose the Giants over “a couple of other options.” The money presumably didn’t hurt, either.

He said video learning at Stanford has prepared him to pick up the Giants’ offense capably despite not being at the club’s facility, which is shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But Martinez also granted that as a new player and leader, not having offseason workouts in person for the foreseeable future is a “big disadvantage” especially “relationship-wise,” trying to learn teammates’ tendencies and develop that communication so vital to the defense.

Regardless, what came through most from Martinez on Monday was that he does not appreciate the common criticisms of his weaknesses and that he mostly doesn’t think his recent shortcomings are either accurate or his fault.

But here in New York leading the Giants, just like in that weight room in Tucson, Ariz., Martinez is going to have to bear the weight of his responsibilities. He has no choice.


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