WR Martin Still Holding Off Challengers


Wide receiver Ruvell Martin could be forgiven if he were a little paranoid.

After all, as the No. 5 receiver on a unit featuring Pro Bowler Donald Driver, rising star Greg Jennings, and first-day draft picks James Jones and Jordy Nelson, Martin's is the job all the young receivers are trying to take.

And even when the Packers didn't add any receivers in the April draft for the first time in Martin's four-year tenure here, it's not as though he's safe. The personnel department immediately signed four non-drafted free agents following the draft - JaRon Harris of South Dakota State, Patrick Williams of Colorado, Jamarko Simmons of Western Michigan and Kole Heckendorf of North Dakota State - to join practice-squad holdovers Brett Swain, Jake Allen and Lorne Sam in the loaded competition for what, in all likelihood and barring injuries to any of the top four, will be one receiver position on the 53-man roster.

But Martin isn't paranoid. Doesn't lose any sleep over it. His line of thinking is that even though he's held down a job for three seasons now, if he weren't constantly being pushed and repeatedly being challenged, there never would have been room in the NFL for a player like him - a former non-drafted free agent, San Diego Chargers' castoff and Packers' practice-squadder - in the first place.

"I think in the NFL, period, your job is always one that's going to be gunned for," Martin said. "When you get comfortable in your position, that's when you're in trouble. There's no free passes.

"I don't think I'm in any different situation than anybody else is. Everybody else has their eye on the next-best thing. It's nothing new. They're bringing new guys in every single year fighting for jobs, and then you've got guys that already have the jobs fighting not only to keep their jobs but to improve their standing with the team."

That's where Martin's focus is now, rather than on the guys behind him on the depth chart. In limited opportunities since landing a roster spot in 2006, he's been steadily productive, but the numbers have fallen off a bit each year, both the catches (21 to 16 to 15) and yards (358 to 242 to 149). He did have a career-high four touchdowns in 2007.

But statistics aside, Martin feels he's a far better player now than when he joined Green Bay's practice squad for the second half of the 2005 season, and he's hoping to get to show that in 2009.

He's always been a reliable blocker on the second level in the running game, but he feels he has steadily improved at adjusting his routes properly and staying on the same page with the quarterback - a chemistry that has developed with Aaron Rodgers since the two performed scout team duty off and on from mid-2005 through 2007.

He also feels he's better at learning and understanding opposing defenses, and the biggest catch of his career back in 2006 illustrates that in a sort of backhanded way.

In the Week 16 Thursday night matchup at Lambeau Field against Minnesota, the Packers trailed 7-6 and faced second-and-6 at their own 37 with four minutes left. Martin beat Vikings' veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield off the line of scrimmage and made a diving grab of Brett Favre's rainbow throw for a 36-yard gain, setting up the game-winning field goal.

"I remember everybody coming up to me saying that was on Antoine Winfield and everything, and I didn't even know who Antoine Winfield was," Martin said. "The name sounded familiar.

"But now that I've played against them for a couple years, I know he's a pretty good corner. He does a good job and has been around for a long time. At the time, I didn't think too much of it."

Now, Martin is much more aware of who he's against and how to best beat that specific opponent. He also continues to be his own worst critic, an approach that works both for and against him.

He says since he was a kid he's always had a hard time focusing on the positive, and he hones in on the negative. He admits it can be hard on his family and friends socially when they try to give him legitimate compliments, but it also helped get him where he is, as part of his unwavering drive to improve and pinpoint what he can do better.

For that reason, he'll never forget the 2007 NFC Championship Game, when he didn't catch a pass but will always feel he should have.

Midway through the second quarter, with the Packers trying to build on a 7-6 lead over the Giants, Martin was open over the middle on third-and-10 from the New York 44. Favre's pass was just slightly high and the ball slipped through Martin's outstretched fingertips. What could have been a first down in the red zone instead was a punt, and even though 2½ quarters plus an overtime were played after that, Martin will always wonder 'what if.'

"For whatever reason I mis-timed the ball, almost like my feet weren't timed up quite right," Martin recalled. "I just replay it over and over in my head to think, man, how could I have caught that ball? When I put my hands up there, it just went right through like I didn't get them closed quick enough."

That one sticks out for Martin not only because of the magnitude of the game, but also because he's about as reliable and sure-handed as any receiver on the roster. He prides himself on making the play when the rare opportunity comes his way, and in his four-score season of 2007, only one of his 16 catches did not result in a first down or touchdown.

{sportsad300}That kind of productivity will be difficult for any of the young up-and-comers to supplant, but Martin knows they're going to give it all they have, just like he did three years ago when he beat out veterans Rod Gardner and Marc Boerigter and draft choice Cory Rodgers for a roster spot.

He learned something that year the others will probably find helpful as they try to break into the NFL, and he still takes the same approach now that he's on the other side of that coin.

"Nobody is competing against me," he said. "The only people competing against me are the guys on defense. I don't go up against the other wideouts ever. I go up against the defensive players, and that's who they need to focus on, the guys on defense. If they don't beat those guys, they're not going to make it."

Martin plans to continue making it, and make more of his career. He helped his cause by performing well when added to the special teams units late last season, recording five tackles, including a career-high three in one game vs. Houston (Dec. 7).

For a player in Martin's position, every season can feel like starting over in the NFL, with little to no job security. But with each passing year he gives himself more to build on, and as long as he keeps progressing, he'll give himself the chance he's hoping for, beyond holding onto his job.

"I think I have more to offer," he said. "I think there's more things I can do out there on the field, and I'm just excited to get out there and get an opportunity to prove that."

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