GREEN BAY, Wis. -- No mental errors. No missed assignments.
It sounds so simple, but those are the things that wrecked the Green Bay Packers' defense far too often last season.
So it’s no wonder the team’s new defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, has put that message out to his players even before they officially go to work on Monday, when the offseason workout program begins.
“He reached out to me early in the offseason and kind of just let me know the style of play that we’re going to have and just his need and want of having organization throughout every single part, making sure there’s no mental errors, no missed assignments, any of that,” Packers linebacker Blake Martinez told reporters Tuesday before he departed on the team’s annual Tailgate Tour. “He was going to be strict on it.”
And, according to Martinez, it doesn’t matter if you’re Clay Matthews or an undrafted free agent.
“He wasn’t going to let anything fly if you’re a Pro Bowler or a rookie coming in,” Martinez said. "I think that was kind of the cool stance hearing from him and talking to him about that because that was one of my things that I wanted to voice my opinion on, just making sure everyone is on the right page at the right time and nothing is confused going into Sunday or Monday or Thursday games. It’s going to be interesting to see how we implement that kind of going into this OTA process.”
It's perhaps one reason coach Mike McCarthy reduced the number of former players on his coaching staff. The thinking could have been that former players go softer on current players when it comes to grading their performances.
The goal, of course, is to put an end to the pre-snap confusion that befell the Packers at times last season under former defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
Who could forget the first-quarter play against the Vikings in Week 16 when linebacker Jake Ryan's back was to the ball at the snap? Ryan appeared to be out of position, and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix looked like he tried to direct him. By that time, quarterback Case Keenum already had the ball in his hand, ready to give it to running back Latavius Murray. The play went right toward Ryan’s spot, and by the time he turned around he already was being blocked. The play went for the easiest 11 yards Murray would ever gain before Clinton-Dix ran him out of bounds.
Martinez could play a key role in correcting those issues.
The studious Martinez, a fourth-round pick from Stanford in 2016, might be just the player to take over the communication helmet full-time from departed safety Morgan Burnett, who signed with the Steelers in free agency. Burnett was often the one who received the defensive call from Capers and then relayed it in the huddle. Only one player is allowed to have the speaker helmet at a time, but Martinez was usually the backup.
The job has to go to someone who is always on the field, and Martinez played 979 of 1,052 defensive snaps last season -- second most on the team behind Clinton-Dix.
Martinez also might be one of the players who McCarthy leans on for the additional leadership he seeks.
“I think that’s one of the things I kind of want to up my game ... just making sure I’m a vocal point out there,” Martinez said. “I know I was adding things in throughout the season. Whenever we were in the huddle I would say stuff before I called the play and kind of had those things in my repertoire to make sure guys were either motivated or on the right cue whenever they needed some type of, I don’t know, guidance in any way, shape or form during TV timeouts. But I don’t know, being that guy that anybody can go to and make sure that I’m a person that’s making everyone better around me.”
Defensive tackle Kenny Clark, who along with Martinez and running back Ty Montgomery are on this week’s Tailgate Tour, sees Martinez as a natural leader. The two were in the same draft class and became a bigger part of the defense last season in their second years.
“I think we’re trying to assert ourselves as leaders on the team, trying to be great players on this team,” Clark said. “I think we’ve been doing a great job of improving, working hard and showing guys that we work. Hopefully, throughout the season and how everything goes we keep improving and showing everyone we can be great leaders on the team.”