WR Martin's Mentors Have Sharpened Learning Curve

A young child with a natural ear for music can learn Beethoven’s symphonies on the piano, while another might not progress beyond "Hot Cross Buns." Sometimes having the right teachers can make all the difference in the world, and that perhaps is the case with wide receiver Ruvell Martin. - More Watch Martin on ’The Mike McCarthy Show’ www.PackersTrainingCamp.com


A young child with an aptitude for numbers might turn into a math whiz, or ultimately become reliant on a calculator. Or one with a natural ear for music can learn Beethoven's symphonies on the piano, while another might not progress beyond "Hot Cross Buns."

Sometimes having the right teachers can make all the difference in the world, and that perhaps is the case with Green Bay Packers wide receiver Ruvell Martin.

Three years ago, Martin was a non-drafted prospect from Division II Saginaw Valley State in Michigan. His 6-foot-4 frame and leaping ability from his high school basketball days intrigued pro scouts, but it is such a jump from small-college football to the NFL that the odds were stacked, and stacked high, against him.

Fast forward to August of 2007, and Martin has now spent almost four full NFL training camps (including this one) with the likes of a Hall of Fame receiver and an 18-year coaching veteran as his mentors to learn the position at the professional level.

In two summers with the San Diego Chargers, neither of which ended with Martin landing a coveted roster spot, he was tutored by James Lofton, the Packers' all-time leader in receiving yardage. And the past two summers in Green Bay, his position coach has been Jimmy Robinson, who played a role in the development of Marvin Harrison, Andre Rison and Donte Stallworth, among others, during coaching stints with four other NFL teams.

That's not to suggest Martin's accomplishments thus far in the NFL - he made a final roster for the first time last year and caught 21 passes for 358 yards and a touchdown for the Packers in 2006 - are all due to coaching. His long stride, sure hands, intelligence and perseverance have all contributed to where he is today, right in the thick of the battle for the Packers' No. 4 receiver spot.

But when the window of opportunity for a young, unproven player to make it in the NFL is as small as it is, there's little doubt the chance to learn from the likes of Lofton and Robinson at this early stage has made a difference for Martin.

"I definitely feel fortunate," Martin said. "I feel like I've learned a ton from what I knew when I was in college to now."

Martin said at Saginaw Valley State he had six receivers coaches in four years. It wasn't uncommon for his position coach, perhaps a graduate assistant during spring ball, to change come the fall. Continuity in coaching was hard to come by, and that's not a knock against Martin's school, but typical of many college programs below the major Division I level.

Coming from that background to San Diego in 2004 and suddenly working on a daily basis with a Hall of Famer like Lofton, "kind of blows you out of the water," Martin said. And he soaked up everything he possibly could.

"He did a good job teaching me more than just wide receiver techniques," Martin said. "It was how we should act on the field, what coaches are looking at, what the scouts are looking at, how they're watching every move you make, watching you in the weight room, watching you on the field when you're playing, when you're not playing."

In other words, Martin was quickly learning all the little things it takes to be, and act like, a pro. They were the kinds of things that not only help a small-school prospect get noticed but also help separate himself from all the other inexperienced receivers just trying to make the team.

Which brings Martin to maybe the most valuable advice he received from Lofton during his time in San Diego. Lofton told Martin that during practice, he shouldn't compete with the other receivers, but simply go to battle with the defensive backs, snap after snap.

"I think it lessens the stress burden, because the more you start worrying about what the guy next to you is doing, the less you're worrying about what you need to be worrying about, which is what you're doing," Martin said.

Lofton's message also implied the harsh reality of the NFL, that in the eyes of scouts and personnel staffs, every player is actually competing against every player at his position across the league.

"They're not just going to take the best guys here, they're going to find the best they can find," Martin said. "So what if you're better than one of the guys here? If you're not up to their standards, they're going to find somebody else."

Martin came close to making the Chargers' final roster in 2005, when he was coming off a banner spring in NFL Europe, posting a league-leading 679 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.

He then came to Green Bay last year as a longshot to make the team, but sooner than many expected, his somewhat raw skills started showing more polish. He credits Robinson, who had a six-year NFL career of his own (1976-81), with helping him take the next step.

"Jimmy makes sure that you've got the playbook down," Martin said. "He really works hard on us to make sure we know every position.

"When I was in San Diego, that was one thing that was spoken to us, 'Make sure you know every position,' but then they'd never work on it. Here, Jimmy does a real good job of making sure everybody knows what to do when they're on the field, and in my opinion that gives everybody the best chance to play."

{sportsad300}Martin capitalized on his chance, as one of just four receivers to make the 2006 opening-day roster. His impact early in the season was limited, but he became a key contributor on offense late in the year.

His 36-yard touchdown catch in San Francisco began the offense's 30-point day and the team's season-ending four-game winning streak. Two weeks later, he made a diving, 36-yard catch along the sideline to set up the game-winning field goal against Minnesota, and he finished the season with seven catches for 118 yards at Chicago, his first 100-yard game in the NFL.

Robinson feels Martin's biggest improvement since coming to Green Bay has been more precise route-running, which has required a focus on footwork and getting Martin's lean 210-pound body in and out of cuts smoothly. That improvement has continued this summer, which finds Martin in a tight battle with Carlyle Holiday, Shaun Bodiford, rookie David Clowney and others for a receiving role behind the top three of Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and rookie James Jones.

"Overall, it's awareness of where he is on the field, where the 'DB' is and what he has to do to win in that situation," Robinson said. "He's had a good camp, and I think he's improving all the time."

Martin started the preseason off strong, with three catches for 45 yards last Saturday in Pittsburgh. A solid night could have been a great one had he not stepped out of the back of the end zone before coming back for a sliding catch of what would have been a 15-yard TD pass from a scrambling Aaron Rodgers.

That play showed the kind of improvisation a younger, less aware, "just-make-sure-you-know-your-route" receiver isn't likely to make. But working with Robinson has helped Martin grow as a player in that regard.

"When I first got here, I was learning the plays just enough to get me by," Martin said. "Now I'm getting into the plays with Jimmy, where he's kind of breaking down the plays with me, where I know more details about it, which in turn helps me be a better receiver.

"I see more of the defense. Whereas last year I was making sure I was doing the right thing, now I know I'm doing the right thing, and I'm working more off the defenders."

Where Martin's 2007 goes from here, not even he can be sure. He knows he's put himself in strong position to make the team again, but there are no guarantees.

What is certain is that the path Martin has traveled from Saginaw Valley State to the NFL has intersected with some valuable coaching expertise along the way, a rare convergence for players of his background that Martin has taken full advantage of thus far.

"Hopefully you can teach a guy a lot of things that maybe he hasn't been exposed to, put him in situations he hasn't experienced, and hopefully you can have a big impact," Robinson said. "That's what we're paid to do."

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