This past year, the Tennessee Titans selected three players in the draft that vastly outperformed early expectations. The first two, Kendall Wright and Zach Brown, have gotten a lot of attention for their play, and rightly so. But in my mind, the most impressive player from this year’s draft was 3rd pick Mike Martin, defensive tackle out of University of Michigan.
Mike Martin came into a crowded field at defensive tackle; Jurrell Casey, our outstanding 3rd round pick in 2011, had locked down the starting nose tackle spot. SenDerrick Marks looked like he had finally turned the corner in the preseason and locked down the undertackle spot. Finally, Karl Klug was supposed to be our pass rushing specialist, a high impact rotational player. Unfortunately for the Titans, neither Marks nor Klug made nearly the impact we had hoped for.
But a silver lining was found – rookie Mike Martin. I, along with most, believed Martin would be a “control the interior” power tackle, fantastic at eating double teams and stopping the run. What I didn’t expect was the skill he showed as a pass rusher, and the multitude of ways he would accomplish that. But should we have been?
Year in Review
Martin spent most of the year operating as the 3rd defensive tackle in our rotation, behind starters SenDerrick Marks and Jurrell Casey. But in his limited role, he was arguably the best among those three- PFF tracked him as our best interior pass rusher, accumulating 15 hurries, 8 hits, and 3 sacks in 249 passrushes. In fact, this ranked second on our team in percentage terms, behind only Derrick Morgan (who was, according to their metrics, one of the best defensive ends in the league).
What was surprising to was his low number of plays- Martin’s playcount, tracked by MusicCityMiracles, continuously yoyo-ed throughout the season, seemingly without rhyme or reason. One week he’d play 60% of our snaps, and next week he’d be down to 30%. I think the coaches held on too long to the idea of SenDerrick Marks as a starting defensive tackle; he showed immense flashes during the preseason, then suffered a few nagging injuries that appear to hold him down the rest of the year. What’s clear is that, when Martin was in, he outplayed Marks. Hopefully the coaches will see that when they study this year’s game tape, and use him accordingly.
Martin’s impact, however, wasn’t just limited to the pass rush. The combo of Casey and Martin were by far the best at run stopping on the team. Both players generally command a double team against the run, and when both are in we see a lot less movement backwards, and our linebackers going unblocked on a regular basis. Unless we see a free agent or high pick at defensive tackle come in, I’m guessing that against any power run team, these two will be on the field together a lot more.
Mike Martin appears to have a very bright future with the Titans; he’s clearly shown enough ability to get a shot at starting, and at minimum, he’ll be a heavy part of our rotation. He does have two things working against him. First, Jurrell Casey has clearly locked down the nose tackle position in our 4-3; there is very little chance that Martin could take that position, given Casey’s play. Second, Martin’s current skillset make him unsuited to start at the UT position in our 4-3; if he wants to secure that starting spot, he needs to continue to improve his pass rushing ability, and expand his limited arsenal of moves.
Martin currently relies too heavily on his abilities to bull-rush and control the offensive lineman’s movement to create pressure; while he adds value on every play by pushing his blocker backwards and collapsing the pocket (shown by the number of pressures he was credited with), only on a few plays against physically weak guards will he create the sack on his own (imagine the [too common] plays where Amano just gets thrown backwards by the opposing tackle).
In the run game, there’s not much more you could ask for. Martin has an astounding ability to hold his ground in the middle, especially against power runs. He could improve slightly in holding ground when he has to move his feet (against outside zone runs, tosses, etc.), but he still does an excellent job. One thing I’d like to see more is penetration- Casey has shown an excellent ability to slip his blocker on a play or two a game and blow up the running back, and if Martin could do that on a more consistent basis, our run defense would be a lot scarier.
The final question is whether Martin should be a starter for us next year and that’s a difficult question. If we can continue our run of drafting excellent defensive tackles in the middle rounds, my answer is yes- in his time on the field, Martin has shown more than enough to be a starter, and enough flashes to convince me he could one day be a dominant UT. I don’t think he’ll ever become a Melton/Kevin Williams type UT, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he makes enough strides to become a 6 sack a year player, and with his dominance in the run game, that would be one hell of a starter.
Tune in Thursday for DT Mike Martin’s review