Early in the off-season it seemed that Sherrod Martin was a marked man. An organization doesn't simply sign two safeties, both of whom were looking for starting jobs, unless that had plans to have an open competition at the position. Haruki Nakamura has been biding his time under Ed Reed, and Reggie Smith was lost in the shuffle in San Francisco-- now both of them have the opportunity to challenge Martin and take the job. Make no mistake, it will be the hardest fought position battle in training camp.
It wasn't so long ago that Charles Godfrey faced the same situation as Martin. Coming off a promising rookie season he took as step back in year two, which naturally led to questions whether he could handle being the future at strong safety. Sure, he forced four fumbles in his sophomore campaign, but it wasn't the big plays that defined him, but rather mediocre play on most downs. However, in his third year as a starter Godfrey flourished, and finished a very solid 2010 campaign with 84 tackles, 8 passes defended and 5 interceptions. Granted, a lot of those picks were 'right place, right time', but he finished them nonetheless.
So too Sherrod Martin is now looking to take the next step as he approaches his third year as the incumbent starter, but unlike Godfrey in 2010 he'll need to fight for playing time. There are no free rides under Ron Rivera's watch, and if he hopes to win the job he'll need to return to that second year form. After the jump we'll look at three ways Sherrod Martin can improve his game.
Play tighter coverage
Part of this was the scheme in 2011, but oftentimes Martin seemed to get lost in his backpedal and found himself out of position. Despite playing in a cover-two scheme under Ron Meeks, Martin managed to allow just 12.0 yards per play in 2010-- this was good enough to be ranked 5th in the NFL by Football Outsiders.
What changed was we saw Martin play a little too much like Charles Godfrey, and catch some of those bad habits where he overpursued, and played too aggressively. This is turn caused him to to be too far away from the ball, and resulted in far too many of those big plays.
Return to reliable tackling
One of the reasons Godfrey and Martin complemented each other so well in 2010 were their opposing roles where Godfrey was asked to deliver big hits, and Martin was relied on to make sound tackling. This worked perfectly with Martin ranked 13th in the NFL in run play stop-rate. However, when the defense got more aggressive, so too did Martin, and all of a sudden sound tackling was lost in favor of delivering the big hit.
I'm all for squaring your shoulders and laying someone out, but if you set your feet wrong it's going to result in an arm tackle, and a huge play. This can't happen moving forward.
Trust your instincts
Finally we have the element that needs to be improved over all others, and one that colors his entire game-- trusting himself. Confidence is a fickle thing for athletes, and there were far too many times we saw Martin lacking confidence. The player we saw in 2009 and 2010 wouldn't have allowed a WR on a crossing route to have ownership of the middle of the field, but that's what we saw Martin allow last year.
Rather than closing and making the receive pay, he sat back and played reactionary football. At the end of the day this is a surefire way to improve his game. Sherrod Martin has the ability, and the football IQ to make a similar sized jump that Charles Godfrey made in his third year, provided he can correct these three things.