A lot has changed in last year for Zack Martin

PHOENIX – A year ago at this time, Zack Martin was in Mobile, Alabama, preparing for the Senior Bowl, unsure of his football future.

This week he is at the posh Arizona Biltmore preparing for his first of what should be many Pro Bowl appearances.

“There was a lot going on last year,” Martin said. “Obviously, more of trying to do as much as you can to get noticed and get picked. This year it’s a little more relaxing, just kind of here for a week to enjoy everyone’s company and enjoy yourself playing.”

As Martin was walking to his room Tuesday, Joe Staley introduced himself to the Cowboys rookie.

“Zack Martin, the greatest guard in the history of guards,” Staley said.

Or not.

“He was joking,” Martin said.

Staley played for Brian Kelly at Central Michigan. Martin played for Kelly at Notre Dame. That Martin earned that kind of praise -- joking or not -- from Staley speaks to Martin's reputation across the league. In addition to the Pro Bowl, he was named All-Pro, the first Cowboys rookie to be so honored since 1969.

“I didn’t really expect this coming in, but obviously I kinda hit the jackpot with the situation I came into with great coaches and even better players to play next to,” Martin said, “Really got lucky with that.”

The Cowboys got lucky. While most of the draft-day talk centered around Johnny Manziel, the Cowboys would have selected linebacker Ryan Shazier if the Pittsburgh Steelers hadn’t taken him with the 15th overall pick.

Martin was a Day 1 starter and didn’t miss a game or a snap. Coaches like to say a player’s biggest improvement comes between his rookie year and second season.

“Honestly, I have no idea how he could improve that much,” center Travis Frederick said. “My level of improvement was a lot, and it just had to do with learning the game, but he’s already at such a high level … that if he continues to improve at the level he did this year, there really is no ceiling for him.”

Martin said he needs to get stronger. He said he can improve on the big things as well as the fine details.

He doesn’t consider himself to be the greatest guard in the history of guards.

“Just go in and do what I’ve always done,” Martin said. “I’ve always said our group takes care of that because we hold ourselves to such a high standard that that group won’t allow anything else but that.”