EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Blake Martinez is not reluctant to take charge.
The fifth-year inside linebacker joined the Giants as a free agent in March and then spent months getting to know his teammates as well as he could through remote learning sessions. He's finally been able to forge more meaningful relationships with them since the team began training camp last week.
"Oh sweet, that's what you look like, it's not just your face, I get your whole body now," Martinez said of that awakening on a Zoom call today. "That portion was different, but overall it was cool to walk in and make it seem like we have been friends for the last six months."
Those connections are important to Martinez. He prides himself on being a good teammate on and off the field. And as the player who will receive the defensive calls from coordinator Patrick Graham and relay them to his teammates in the huddle, he is in a natural position of leadership. It's a role Martinez is comfortable in, even among players he is just getting to know.
"That's the reason I am here, to be that guy," Martinez said. "I pride myself on not being too flustered in any moments and being that rock for the defense. Especially obviously for me being the quote, unquote, quarterback on the defense. Being that guy that's always calm, cool, and collected."
And productive. Martinez led the Green Bay Packers in tackles in each of the previous three seasons with 156, 147 and 155, respectively. In 2018, the second of those three seasons, his position coach was Graham.
"We have a great relationship, "Martinez said. "We grew it my third year in Green Bay and it makes it a lot easier to walk into his office anytime. Any concerns I have, or certain questions I have, I can go straight to him and we chat just like anybody else. It's made it a lot easier to get new updates on anything that he is changing throughout the day."
One of Martinez's first goals when he joined the Giants was to develop the same rapport with his new teammates. But the pandemic and the NFL's subsequent decision to close all team facilities meant Martinez would have to construct those relationships on his computer screen.
A proven problem solver who earned a degree in management science and engineering at Stanford, Martinez is resolved to show his fellow players what he's all about now that they are face to face.
"Especially me being a new guy, I thought about the OTA's portion, especially if you are a rookie or a new free agent, as that 'earning the respect' portion," Martinez said. "I think that's a big miss. You can work out together and you get to see everybody's work ethic, you get to see the guys doing extra. See the guys take control in certain tough situations, whether it's conditioning, meetings, walk-throughs and things like that. I think, overall, we did a great job as a team making sure we took advantage of what we were given. The Zoom meetings, being able to add in video games at nighttime with guys, just chatting with guys after the meetings ended."
That connection now extends to the football field, where the Giants have nightly walk-throughs and will soon be working in helmets and then full pads. In addition to learning Graham's system, Martinez is establishing himself as a leader.
"Everyone (is) focusing on the fundamentals of doing what we need to do each day to grow as individuals," he said. "Overall, for me, it's just being able to allow those guys to understand that I'm going to be on top of everything from checks, making sure people are lined up in the right position, that I am that calming factor. For me, I take every single day to keep chipping at that.
"Whether it's walk-throughs, talking in meetings, guys start to recognize this guy knows what going on, this guy is going to allow me to not have any freak moments. If things are moving fast, he's the guy that I can turn to and calm myself down."
They will not, however, be able to turn to Martinez in a preseason game. The NFL cancelled that portion of the schedule.
For veterans like Martinez, it means all preparation for the season – from executing the defense, to adjusting on the fly, to ensuring the play calls are received and relayed quickly and properly – must be done in practice.
"Right now, we are still in phase one (of camp)," he said. "Once it gets there, I'm projecting there will be some type of way to get a competitive aspect and get those reps that can match a preseason some way. I think that's kind of the big thing for preseason. For me, looking at the preseason, this will be my fifth year in the league and I should know how to tackle and do all these things. Overall, for practice it's just working on those fundamentals. Whether it's the fundamentals of the right feet, the right stance, the right approach to tackle and the perfect drops and things like that. Once you get on the football field, you know how to tackle and how to go play.
"Challenges pop up every single day. The playbook aspect is just nailing down things and doing whatever is necessary. We have an hour break right now, so instead spending the whole hour chatting, okay let's spend 30 minutes watching film or going through certain installs and things like that. Talking to Pat about certain checks and things, what he's thinking. It's just going to take that much more effort, just kind of chipping away to get where I need to be when the season gets going."