Blake Martinez is doing just everything he was able to do before he tore his ACL last September.
There is one big exception.
He’s not calling the plays for the first time in his football life. New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has decided to deliver his decisions via radio to the green-dotted helmet of safety Xavier McKinney so far this training camp, stripping Martinez of the task that is typically performed by a team’s middle linebacker.
“It’s definitely been an adjustment for me,” said Martinez, who is still getting used to not hearing coaches' voices in his head. “Obviously I would love to do the headset and be able to call the plays and everything.”
But, he said, there are some benefits to not having the responsibility.
“I don’t have to tell the call 40 times to guys who are not paying attention,” he said. “I can just be like ‘What’s the call? Cool. I’ll go get lined up.’ I can see the formation and I don’t have to trust anyone else to see it for me.”
It has also allowed Martinez to ease back onto the field this summer. While his workload has increased in recent days, he is not back to the point where he is playing every rep. McKinney is.
Martindale said it is “not written in stone yet” that McKinney or any safety will call the plays in the regular season, so there is still a chance the job could swing back to Martinez. For now, though, Martindale said he likes using the safety even if it is for no other apparent reason than no one else in the league does.
“I’ve always thought that to survive in this league you’ve got look at everything and just because something’s always been done one way, it doesn’t mean that’s the way you have to do it,” Martindale said. “The biggest thing is to get them all communicating.”
So for now, Martinez’s helmet will be dotless. If that’s the only difference between him as a player pre- and post-injury, if he can otherwise come back as the 100-tackle-a-season machine he was for most of his career, he’ll take it.
“I think I put the time in, the work in, I feel stronger, faster and quicker than I was before,” Martinez said. “It’s like I had three offseasons in one. I feel confident. Now it’s just getting out there and doing it.”
He’s doing it more and more each day.
“I’ll go all day unless they tell me not to,” he said. “They’re like, ‘Hey Blake, you got this many reps.’ I’m like ‘Sweet,’ as I’m getting my pads on… It’s been good trusting their plan and every single day it gets better and better.”
Martinez probably won’t play in the preseason opener on Thursday to get his first real game action since the injury, but he said it was a big step to return to MetLife Stadium for Friday night’s Fan Fest scrimmage, playing on that artificial turf for the first time since he suffered his ACL injury there last season.
“It gave me a good understanding of going out there and playing and letting loose and knowing that if I had to make this tackle I’d still be able to, especially being on that turf for the first time since it was what caused the injury,” he said.
Before the night was over it had caused another one. Rookie offensive lineman Marcus McKethan tore his ACL in a non-contact injury during the scrimmage, adding to the legacy of the MetLife turf which some players – and it certainly sounds as if Martinez is among them - have blamed for their knee injuries.
“Don’t get me started on that stuff,” Martinez grumbled. “It sucks. I was sitting there talking to the trainers [when McKethan got hurt] and said, ‘Welp, the turf got another one.’ I’d get grass but it’s obviously easier said than done. It’s just something you have to work through and make sure you put in the right time to be able to maneuver on that thing and not have that happen.”