Five years ago, the Miami Dolphins passed on Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan to select Michigan left tackle Jake Long with their first overall pick. They were scolded by the media, and admonished by the fans. Afterward, both fans and media yelled, “how could you pass on a franchise quarterback?”
Now they have a franchise quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, but no left tackle. Long is gone to St. Louis, and the new left tackle is second-year man Jonathan Martin, a soft and sloppy Stanford educated athlete.
Martin is the team’s top choice at the position after he was the latest high-round draft investment last year. They took him in the second round and have no choice but to stick with him. Can he do the job, though? Based off last season, when he played right tackle, and his two preseason games, most are saying no. But why? Here’s why: Martin is not playing with confidence in his technique. He’s too sloppy fundamentally in both his run and pass blocking despite having plenty of talent.
When he kick-slides, he’s not always getting deep enough or out quick enough. When he finally does sit in his stance and is ready to punch the pass rusher, he’s either too slow to get his hands up, too soft punching the rusher or inaccurate. And if he happens to make contact, he doesn’t slide his feet simultaneously. Here’s an example against the Dallas Cowboys during the Hall of Fame game.
It’s 3rd-and-10 at the seven minute mark of the first quarter, and the Dolphins are just shy of their opponent’s territory. They’re at their own 45-yard line, just inside of the gold and white midfield logo where Tannehill is set to catch a long snap in the shotgun formation. That means Martin, positioned at left tackle, needs to ride the incoming pass rusher wide of the pocket and clear of his quarterback. He actually does that and doesn’t surrender a pressure, at least not one that he can be blamed for. But the process is what’s also important.
When the play begins, Martin slides out wide to fend off the rusher with his hands down. That’s the first problem he has. He leaves his chest exposed and is essentially begging the defender to bull-rush him. Luckily, the latter has other plans.
Martin finally gets his hands up and onto the defender. It’s softly done, however, and doesn’t jolt or jar the defender back, allowing him to continue to get after the quarterback. It also helps that Martin doesn’t slide his feet as he’s punching. It’s difficult to do, but his hands will move only as fast as his feet do, so if his feet are not moving…
The lack of movement gives the rusher a chance to find a crease to dip his shoulder and turn the corner. He has a clear shot at Tannehill, who is under duress because of raging, burly defensive tackles collapsing the inside, and he’s forced to reverse out of the pocket, thus making the job even harder for Martin.
Martin is starting to slide his feet again, but he does it slowly with a narrow base and gives up his outside shoulder to the pass rusher, who takes advantage of the opening and runs after the quarterback to force a spike of the ball into the ground.
Martin’s lack of confidence in his technique is reminiscent of the Cowboys’ Doug Free last season. Free was at right tackle but had the same issues and was paraded around for six sacks and 41 quarterback hurries, per Pro Football Focus. That led to a demotion in the final weeks of the regular season, putting his roster spot in jeopardy now.
Clearly the Dolphins can’t afford to let that happen with Martin, who’s been trusted with protecting the face of the franchise’s backside. Martin has to improve his hand and foot techniques, become more confident in them and more aggressive in pass and run blocking, where he’s also struggled to re-establish the line of scrimmage. He’s taken poor angles, and he’s cut blocked with improper technique on the backside of stretch plays.
Overall, Martin’s not a lost cause because there’s plenty of talent and upside, but he’s struggling mentally. In the NFL, if you aren’t right mentally, you aren’t right at all.