GREEN BAY – Blake Martinez didn’t want to be a pest, but the opportunity in front of him was too good to pass up.
As soon as the Packers’ rookie linebacker discovered his locker was only one spot over from Aaron Rodgers’, Martinez vowed to capitalize on the arrangement.
He has one of the league’s greatest minds only a few feet away from him, so why waste it?
“Once I got here, I was like, ‘All right, I might get to the point where he’s like, ‘OK, stop talking to me,’” said Martinez with a smile. “But I’m going to at least take that risk and go at it, and take it to the breaking point in asking questions and doing those things.”
Rodgers said at the start of organized team activities that he usually has to take it upon himself to interact with rookies since most are nervous about approaching the two-time NFL MVP.
That wasn’t the case with Martinez. An unabashed self-starter, the Stanford product quickly broke the ice with Rodgers, a Cal product, in joking about their schools’ Pac-12 rivalry.
“I was like walking by and he bumped me to mess with me,” Martinez said. “I was like, ‘Dude, are we going to do this Cal-Stanford thing? Come on.’ We started laughing.
“I didn’t want to be nervous because (the veterans are) guys, too. Might as well go seek him out for a little advice here and there.”
Even before Martinez met Rodgers, he knew there was a wealth of information to be gleaned from the quarterback’s knowledge bank. An 11-year NFL veteran, Rodgers has played the best of the best, and more often than not, beaten them.
Due to injuries at inside linebacker, the fourth-round pick received an unusual amount of team reps for a rookie during OTAs. It gave Martinez a little taste of what it’s like competing against Rodgers.
There were a few times Martinez would take one step to the left and Rodgers immediately would call out the coverage to the rest of the offense.
It was a reminder to Martinez of the importance of presenting the opposing quarterback different looks in an effort to not tip the defense’s hand.
Along the way, Rodgers has relayed a few helpful suggestions to Martinez based on his battles with former All-Pro middle linebacker Brian Urlacher of Chicago.
“I talk to Aaron all the time about little tips and cues that he has for me from things he’s gone against,” Martinez said. “He told me little things he learned from playing against Urlacher that he gave me little tips on, little coverage tips and those types of things.”
Earlier this week, Head Coach Mike McCarthy excused Rodgers and the team’s other 14 veterans with at least five accrued seasons. Still, the opportunity to work against backup quarterback Brett Hundley has value for Martinez.
The two became familiar with one another during Hundley’s days at UCLA. Martinez can recall the coaching staff putting a star next to Hundley’s name on the scouting report – a denotation of whom the defense needed to limit on Saturday.
A little more than a month removed from the draft, Martinez already is beginning to feel at home in the Packers’ defense, whether it’s playing either inside linebacker spot or handling dime sub-package duties.
Dom Capers’ scheme represents a big jump in competition and complexity but holds many similarities to the 3-4 scheme that Stanford employed.
Martinez studied religiously with roommate Kyler Fackrell shortly after his arrival until recently getting a place of his own. Now, you’ll often find him peppering assistant linebackers coach Scott McCurley with questions to help hasten his transition.
Martinez estimates he studies about three hours each night and doesn’t plan on letting up once he returns home to Arizona next week. He’s already planning to work with his dad on digesting every part of the defense.
“Blake’s a bright guy and really conscientious to pick up the system,” Capers said. “He’s an attention-to-detail guy and those types of guys, many times they pick up a step or two because they’re good at anticipating and studying tendencies.”
That cat-and-mouse aspect of the linebacker position is right up Martinez’s alley. He’s sworn off alcohol, soda and sweets, but strategy games are his one vice.
A big fan of the board games Settlers of Catan and Risk, Martinez also can be found playing Defense of the Ancients online. It’s a five-on-five game with teams aiming to destroy the opponents’ structure.
Martinez and his friends are big enough fans that they actually attended The International world championship at KeyArena in Seattle, which featured an $18 million prize pool.
Martinez won’t be able to watch this year’s competition – it runs concurrently with training camp in August – but maybe someday he’ll be a part of it.
Until then, Martinez’s goal is to make an impact for the Packers in 2016 regardless of whether that’s on defense or special teams. To get there, he knows the work that will be required of him.
“I was telling our special-teams coach, Coach (Ron) Zook, that I want to put this in fast forward,” Martinez said. “He’s coming up saying, ‘You’re fine. You’re way better than people were last year.’ I was like, ‘I don’t want to be better than the people were last year. I want to be better than the guy in right now.’
“Just doing everything I can to get that extra step and be in line with all the veterans.”
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