Regardless of what the offense looks like in Week 1, the Green Bay Packers’ defense has a strong formula that should lead to plenty of success in 2021. The biggest question mark for the defense entering the season won’t even be on the field. It rests on the shoulders of new defensive coordinator Joe Barry.
Yet all around this defense are star players. Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith, Kenny Clark, Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage, Rashan Gary, Preston Smith — you get the point. This leads to less pressure on the other guys on the defense and can open up gigantic opportunities for them. One of those “other guys” is Kamal Martin. And if he’s able to stay healthy next year, he’s poised to make a major impact on the Packers’ defense.
Fans were giddy about Martin even though he was a fifth-round selection in 2020. That pure optimism may have been the result of Packers faithful praying that there would finally be an answer at inside linebacker.
Martin’s start to his rookie season was as deflating as it possibly could’ve been.
The Packers’ fifth-round choice out of Minnesota ended up on short-term injured reserve to start his rookie season, missing the first five games over six weeks. He first saw action in Week 7 against the Houston Texans. Coincidentally, it may have been his best game of the year as he totaled six solo tackles and a TFL.
Martin appeared in 10 games, six as a starter, in his rookie season with Green Bay. He saw plenty of snaps in his first two games (72 total) but never eclipsed 25 snaps in any game the rest of the way.
His production came in spurts and small flashes. In those moments, Martin looked like the future starting inside linebacker for the Packers for years to come. But he struggled with consistency, and that dovetailed with a lack of opportunity at times in the second half of the season.
Entering Year 2, the ante is upped on Martin and fellow inside linebacker Krys Barnes.
Barnes was an undrafted 2020 inside linebacker who burst onto the scene for Green Bay in his rookie season as well. Like Martin, expectations were low given that neither were early-round draft selections. Now that they’ve both shown glimmers of promise in year one, expectations have risen.
Martin is helped by the pieces around him. Green Bay might still be somewhat thin at inside linebacker, but the group effort of the overall defense can do nothing but enhance Martin’s play and help guide him along through Year 2. And while, yes, he will be asked to do more this season, most headlines about Green Bay’s defense will likely feature Alexander, either of the Smiths, Clark, Gary, or one of the two stud safeties.
Perhaps the best thing the Packers did for Martin this offseason was bring in some veteran competition. De’Vondre Campbell is entering his sixth year in the NFL. Like Martin, he is a former Golden Gopher. The Packers were extremely young at inside linebacker and still are, but adding Campbell to the mix should help out a lot.
If Martin can improve his game this year and find consistency while staying healthy, he could take Green Bay’s defense to the next level.
On the edge, they are set with both Smiths and Gary. At safety, you won’t find a much better duo than Amos and Savage lurking at midfield. At corner, Alexander is one of the best in the business, and Green Bay brought back Kevin King while also using their 2021 first-round pick on cornerback Eric Stokes out of Georgia. Kenny Clark beefs up the middle. He could use a sidekick inside, but Clark is awfully dominant even by himself. That just leaves inside linebacker. And there will be plenty of opportunities for Martin to thrive.
There were no OTAs or preseason in his rookie year. An injury put him on the shelf for six weeks and contributed to some up-and-down production once he returned. With more stability and structure in place and training camp less than a month away, Kamal Martin will be able to announce his arrival for the upcoming season in July and August. If he’s able to take that next step, Green Bay’s lingering question mark at inside linebacker may finally become an exclamation point.