GREEN BAY – Blake Martinez wasn’t satisfied with how the 2018 season played out, individually or collectively.
The Packers linebacker tied a career high with 144 tackles, set a new personal best with five sacks and finished second on Green Bay’s defense with 1,049 snaps, but Martinez wanted more.
No, he demanded more.
Martinez’s biggest gripe with last season was he “wasn’t as strong” as he set out to be, so he took his stringent offseason routine – the guy already doesn’t eat sweets – and turned it up another few notches.
The results were noticeable when the fourth-year linebacker walked into the interview room last week to meet with the media on the third day of the 2019 offseason program.
“I basically gained seven pounds and lost 3½ percent body fat,” Martinez said, which the strength and conditioning coaches told him equated to losing eight pounds of fat and gaining 15 pounds of muscle.
“(I’m) not messing around this year. Last year, I wasn’t happy. A lot of things went into it.”
Personally, Martinez is aware of what’s at stakes this season. He’s entering a contract year, though that’s a matter Martinez is leaving solely in the hands of his agent.
Martinez’s job is to put everything together during his second season in coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense. Consistency is the starting point for any inside linebacker, but Martinez hopes the changes he’s made will result in more splash plays.
That comes with the “graduate” level of Pettine’s program. As the primary communicator on defense, Martinez knows it’s not just about the play call, but how players react to what happens on the field.
In their first year together, Pettine had no problem using Martinez in a multitude of ways. Coincidentally, the 6-foot-2, 237-pound linebacker finished third in sacks behind 2016 draft classmates Kyler Fackrell (10½) and Kenny Clark (six).
“There’s a lot of things I want to keep improving on, whether it’s tackling, coverage, rush, turnovers, forced fumbles,” Martinez said. “Anything you can do along the line of a middle linebacker, it’s one of those things that I’m going to keep striving for.”
Martinez will have a new running mate at the position this year after Jake Ryan left for Jacksonville in free agency and Antonio Morrison was released last month.
The next man up appears to be 2018 third-round pick Oren Burks, who played mostly on special teams as a rookie after a shoulder injury sidelined him at the start of last season.
As a defensive back-turned-linebacker, the 6-foot-3, 233-pound Burks brings an intriguing skill set to inside linebacker. The Packers value his hybrid makeup in today’s pass-oriented NFL.
“He’s a freak of nature,” Martinez said. “He’s got every ability in the book to be an amazing player and I think he’s working extremely hard every single day making sure he’s in the meeting rooms by himself, watching film, doing extra things, (and) asking me questions.”
Martinez knows better than anyone how much the game slows down in Year 2. As a rookie, Martinez rotated with Ryan and Joe Thomas before claiming an every-down role in 2017.
The expectations have grown each year Martinez has been in the league and that won’t change anytime soon. Veterans Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry have given way to a new influx of free agents such as Adrian Amos, Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith.
Martinez believes he has a good feel for his new teammates. His former Stanford teammate, Trent Murphy, played with Preston Smith in Washington, while Martinez’s close friend, Tavon Young, spent the past three seasons with Za’Darius Smith in Baltimore.
Often seen as the glue in the middle of Pettine’s defense, Martinez will have a part to play this fall in making all the new pieces fit together – a task he juggled last year due to injuries and a rotating carousel of defensive personnel.
“Blake is definitely a leader on this defense,” defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. “He works hard, people see it, and that’s why they give him the role that he has as far as the communication and everything he does. Because everybody trusts him and he comes in early and works as hard as he can, we all trust him to do all that stuff.”
Shortly after the season ended, Martinez was thrilled to learn Pettine would be returning as the Packers’ defensive coordinator. After getting a taste for Pettine’s scheme last year, Martinez feels he’s in the perfect spot to thrive.
“I was extremely excited,” Martinez said. “I go back to my first year … and having a defense going into my second year that I’ve already been a part of and how big of a jump and how (much) more comfortable that I was throughout that second year.
“To be able to do that with Coach Pettine’s defense, how much fun Pettine’s defense is, the ability to blitz, cover – everything as a linebacker that you want to do, you’re able to do.”