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Packers coordinator Mike Pettine reacts to Blake Martinez's parting comments on the ILB job

Ryan Wood
Packers News

GREEN BAY – Blake Martinez was a tackle machine in his two seasons with Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, but dynamic plays were missing. 

Martinez, the brain center of the Pettine’s defense, ranked second in the NFL with 144 tackles in 2018. He ranked second in the league with 155 tackles last season. But, though he did have eight sacks, Martinez forced only one fumble with one interception in those two seasons. He did not recover a fumble. 

When asked about his lack of turnovers after signing a three-year, $30.75 million contract with the New York Giants this spring, Martinez said Pettine devalued the inside linebacker position in his defense. He called his lack of dynamic plays a “misconception” about his game, saying Pettine limited his role to just “the clean-up crew guy” in the defense.  

“In our defense,” Martinez told Giants reporters in March, “no matter what it was, since I was the only linebacker on the field, I was taught and told to be the clean-up crew guy. There wasn’t any gap responsibilities for me. It was just kind of, ‘Hey, play off Kenny (Clark), play off Za’Darius (Smith), play off Preston (Smith), play off Dean (Lowry).’ Play off these guys and basically make them right. 

“They were able to do whatever they wanted to do, and then I would go make the plays depending on that. 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.” 

Naturally, Pettine did not agree with Martinez’s assessment when asked Friday morning. Pettine said Martinez’s description was only “his impression” of his role in the defense. 

“That’s certainly not how we taught it last year,” Pettine said. “Or how we’ve ever taught it in the system.” 

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Pettine said there is no roaming in his defense. Each defender on the field has an assignment on each play, he said. That could be a gap in the run game or a coverage assignment against a certain offensive player. Pettine said newcomer Christian Kirksey, a veteran of Pettine’s system in Cleveland who was signed to replace Martinez, is trained the same way. 

The key, like with any defense, is to also maximize the playmakers on the field. 

“We’re fortunate,” Pettine said, “we have Kenny, who’s a playmaker inside. And we have those guys, Preston and Za on the outside, who are playmakers as well. Certainly the way our system is built, is that the Mike linebacker, a lot of times the ball will get funneled to him. if you just look at the tackling numbers the last couple years, I think it bears that out, or in that system in general. 

“I know he said what he said on his way out, but that’s something that we don’t pay much attention to.”  

Green Bay Packers linebacker Rashan Gary eyes improvement over his rookie season.

Gary showing why he won’t fail

Mike Smith has the same litmus test for every young pass rusher he coaches: How much do they care? With Rashan Gary, Smith said, the Packers’ second-year outside linebacker is passing that test with ease. 

Gary texted his position coach after midnight Friday morning asking for three things he could improve when he woke up. It might not sound like a noteworthy request – until you realize Friday was an off day in Packers camp. 

“And he’s meaner than a rattlesnake,” added Smith, the Packers’ outside linebackers coach. “I’m telling you, guys like that, they don’t fail. They don’t. You get guys that are athletic and all that stuff, they don’t love football, those are the ones that don’t make it. Or they’re really inconsistent, they'll have a good year or a couple good games, and then they’re done. 

“That’s why I know for a fact Rashan – and a lot of coaches wouldn’t even put themselves on the table like this, because they’re wondering about that ‘what if?’ question. I don’t have no ‘what if?’ with him. I don’t. Because he loves it, and he’s learning.” 

Smith said Gary was particularly raw when he arrived as the 12th overall pick in the draft last spring. It certainly didn’t help that the coronavirus pandemic wiped out Gary’s first full offseason. 

But Gary, showing he cares, worked throughout the spring and summer. He frequently posted videos of his workouts on social media. Smith said that drive has shown. 

“He wants to be good,” Smith said. “And understand that people don’t understand there’s a science to pass rush. I wish it was as easy as just lining up and trying to go beat that guy. It’s not like that. So the strides that he’s made – and it’s a credit to him, how hard he freaking worked his butt off this offseason working on things we wanted him to work on – it’s a credit to him. Because it’s showing up.  

“I can’t be more proud of somebody than him, because he’s going to be a damn good player.” 

Lowry searching for sacks

Dean Lowry signed a three-year extension worth a smidge more than $20 million before last season. Then he went out and did something he’d never done before, finishing 2019 with zero sacks. 

Lowry had never been a big sacks producer in his first three seasons, entering last year with just seven in his career. That’s not why the Packers paid up for an extension. Lowry has made plays at the line of scrimmage. He has nine batted passes in his career, including three last season. He also picked off Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky. 

Still, Lowry had never quite been shut out as a pass rusher either. Along with having no sacks, he also had just two quarterback hits. 

Lowry wants to retain his productive at the line of scrimmage – his 6-6 height and ability to time passes has been disruptive – while growing as a pass rusher. 

“I’ve always been a pocket pusher,” Lowry said, “but no doubt the next step in my game has to be getting off those blocks, the power moves, and really finishing at the quarterback. I’ve always done a good job of getting inside pocket presence and push, getting my hands up in the passing lanes. But a big focus now is really getting off those pass-rush blocks and finishing at the quarterback.”