Can Blake Martinez be the leader the New York Giants need in the middle of their defense? The Giants handed him a three-year, $30.75 million contract in free agency believing he could. Let’s take a closer look as we continue profiling the players on the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp.
Position: Inside linebacker
Contract: Year 1 of three-year, $30.75 million contract | Guaranteed: $19 million
How he got here
Martinez was a tackling machine for the Green Bay Packers the past three seasons, compiling 144, 144, and 155 tackles during those three years.
The volume is, obviously, impressive. Questions, though, have been raised about the quality of those tackles.
Martinez understands the question, telling reporters during a conference call after his signing that he often felt like the “clean-up crew guy” the way he was use in Green Bay rather than a play-making linebacker.
“I think that’s the one misconception of me, I guess the public view. The way we ran the defense, at least the last two years, is I’m kind of put into the clean-up crew guy,” said Martinez, adding that with the Packers he was often the only linebacker on the field. “I know there’s been things like you make tackles down the field, you make tackles here, you make tackles there. 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.”
The Giants traded for Alec Ogletree in 2018, hoping he could be their defensive quarterback. After two seasons it became apparent that wasn’t going to work, and they moved on.
Martinez ended up being the Giants’ choice rather than Cory Littleton, Joe Schobert, Nick Kwiatkoski or any of the other available inside linebackers.
“Martinez gives us a guy that has played in the system for Pat Graham and will get us lined up,” GM Dave Gettleman said. “I think that this scheme is going to fit him better.”
Martinez will start and be the Giants’ defensive signal-caller. That much we know. He will likely pile up a ton of tackles. We know that, too.
What we don’t know is whether he will make impact plays. Or, how well Martinez can and will actually cover the pass.
Martinez doesn’t want to hear that he’s weak in coverage.
“There were probably two times last year that I was called to, I guess, man coverage somebody that I made my own mental mistakes on,” Martinez said. “But for the most part, other than that, my coach last year, he basically was like ‘Oh yeah, you’re one of the best, if not the best, zone coverage linebackers I’ve ever been around’. Being able to see the field, see crossing routes, being able to communicate, do all those types of things. I think the tough part that obviously, same thing, where it’s been like ‘Oh yeah, Blake, coverage this thing, blah blah blah,’ whatever it ends up being, whatever critics or those types of things. It’s been certain situations where within those given calls or zone calls, because last year we played a lot of match coverage zone, so it looks like we’re in man coverage but technically we have inside help or outside help or being able to pass off and those types of things.
“There were small communication lapses and misunderstandings, where we were able to pass off, which totally understood from the public perception, you look at it and be like ‘Oh what the heck? Shouldn’t this guy be covering him? Or shouldn’t Blake be covering him?’ Those types of things. But overall, I think I am able to do whatever I’m asked to do. 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.”
Carl Banks, who knows a little bit about playing linebacker, doesn’t want to hear it, either. Banks called Martinez “functional” in coverage during a film study he did for Giants.com, and pointed out several excellent plays.
Our Nick Falato did his own Martinez film study. Here is his conclusion:
“Martinez is a solid run defender within the confines of the tackle box. Very smart, with an excellent ability to key and diagnose blocking schemes. Plays with solid leverage, with solid shedding ability and is rarely out of position. Good at scraping over the top of blocks and locating ball carriers to the boundary side of the field, even though he played predominantly as the field linebacker in nickel/sub-packages for the Packers. Solid tackler in space, especially against players with only solid lateral quickness. Can blitz and has had success doing it. He has all the intangibles you want as a defensive play-caller and has exceptional awareness and command, by all accounts. Athletic limitations show up against lateral runs to the field and while in coverage. The lack of elite athletic traits will upset Giants’ fans and I understand the plight, but this is still an upgrade over Alec Ogletree. What Martinez will bring to the run defense is an upgrade, but I don’t see him being dynamic covering tight ends in man, which is something he didn’t do a whole lot of in Green Bay. We will probably see a lot of three-safety looks, but you don’t normally give $10 million a year to a two-down player. It should be interesting to see how the defense is deployed with Martinez roaming the middle.”
After two years of poor defenses under then-defensive coordinator James Bettcher, the Giants’ 2020 defense is going to draw a great deal of scrutiny. The choice of Graham as coordinator is interesting, as were the choices of Martinez and cornerback James Bradberry as centerpieces of the revamp.
How will it work out? We’ll all find out together. If, that is, games are played at all.