GREEN BAY, Wis. – Having been forced to sit out the Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine following knee surgery, as well as pro day and private workouts because of the COVID-19 pandemic, University of Minnesota linebacker Kamal Martin needed to remind NFL teams about his skill and athletic ability.
So, with Martin returning to 100 percent health, agents Camron Hahn and Brian Murphy of Athletes First crafted a plan. They had Martin film his rehab and field workouts over the course of two days about 10 days before the draft. They put together a “highlight” video of sorts to distribute to the 32 NFL teams.
“It was a lot of fun doing that and I felt really healthy,” Martin said.
Who knows what Martin’s draft fate would have been without the video. Packer Central spoke to a team’s college scouting director a couple weeks after the draft. Asked about Martin, the scout said he stopped watching him after a couple games. Because of the injury, “He wasn’t worth my time,” the scout said.
The Green Bay Packers selected Martin in the fifth round, throwing him in the mix with former draft picks Oren Burks (third round, 2018) and Ty Summers (seventh round, 2019). When Martin arrived for training camp at the end of July, he was eight months removed from playing in his final game with the Gophers. Nonetheless, despite the long layoff and lack of offseason practices, Martin has thrown himself squarely into the battle to join Christian Kirksey as the team’s starting linebackers.
No doubt, Martin arrived wanting to make the team, wanting to start. But his goal was simply to be the best he can be.
“The goal is to do the best you could possibly do without ever thinking that you left anything on the table,” he said after Tuesday’s practice. “That’s success in a lot of people’s minds. Doing everything you could do to the best of your ability, knowing that you didn’t leave anything on the table. That comes with mental work, that comes with physical work, that comes with just understanding how to be a good teammate, all of that stuff. To take that into effect, that’s kind of what my mind-set was coming in.”
Tuesday’s practice in Lambeau Field was another strong day. On back-to-back plays, he stormed into the backfield to stop running back Jamaal Williams behind the scrimmage and beat guard Elgton Jenkins to ruin a screen to tight end Josiah Deguara. Early in practice, he had excellent coverage on Deguara to prevent a downfield completion by Aaron Rodgers.
Earlier in the week, Packers coach Matt LaFleur said the “first thing that jumps out” about Martin is his length. That’s why the Gophers liked him, too, as they moved him from quarterback to pass rusher to off-the-ball linebacker.
“We really get into looking at arm length because that allows you to separate from blockers,” Minnesota defensive coordinator Joe Rossi said after the draft. “He had last year, I want to say, the second- or third-longest arms on the team. We have a 6-9 offensive lineman and we’ve got some pretty big defensive linemen, as well. His arm length is really at a length of who’s 6-5 or 6-6. That really shows up getting off blocks, being able to separate and keep guys away from your body.”
With Kirksey, the Packers have a potential upgrade over Blake Martinez. Opposite Kirksey, however, is the great unknown. Burks barely played in his first two seasons due to training camp injuries, Summers didn’t play any defensive snaps as a rookie and Martin is a rookie. Consistency, LaFleur said, will be the deciding factor.
“That is an area these guys have got to earn it,” LaFleur said. “We’re going to keep on working those combinations. We can’t afford to have mistakes. You have mistakes, you give up big plays, not only in the run game but in the pass game. It’s just going to come down to who can consistently do their job at a high level.”
The job remains up for grabs. Burks had a good day, too. Toward the end of practice, he dropped rookie running back A.J. Dillon at the line of scrimmage and almost intercepted a pass.
Still, that Martin is in the mix is quite a feat considering his long layoff and the challenges the entire rookie class is facing.
“They drafted me to come in here and work and do my job to the best of my ability,” Martin said. “So that’s what I’m going to continue to do, and that’s what the rest of the guys are going to continue to do – do their jobs to the best of their ability. We’re going to continue to grow and be the best that we can possibly be.”