Kareem Martin in pursuit of third OLB job for Arizona Cardinals
GLENDALE, Ariz. – With Markus Golden on one side and Chandler Jones on the other, the Arizona Cardinals are set at outside linebacker; and perhaps for quite some time. Golden is 26 and eligible for a contract extension after this season, while Jones, 27, was just rewarded with a five-year deal back in March.
But those two, who had a combined 23.5 sacks last season, can’t play every snap of every game; and often a third linebacker is used on the outside, especially in obvious passing situations.
That third backer was Alex Okafor in 2016. He, however, departed in the offseason, signing a free-agent contract with the New Orleans Saints.
The most likely player to step into that role in 2017 is Kareem Martin.
“Definitely that’s the goal,” he said, following Saturday’s preseason loss to the Chicago Bears. “We got two great pass rushers in Markus and Chandler, so hopefully I can take over that spot that Okafor left here and continue what we had last year to be the top outside linebacker sack leaders in the NFL.”
Against the Bears, Martin nearly had a sack and perhaps would’ve if it weren’t for a botched snap by center Taylor Boggs. Quarterback Mark Sanchez recovered the football and Martin, in on the play immediately, was credited with a one-yard tackle for loss.
“I felt like if he didn’t fumble the ball I would have had a cleaner hit on him,” Martin said. “I felt like I had a good get-off. I jumped the snap it felt like, got around the edge. I beat the guy a few plays earlier so I knew I was going to be able to run around him and he just happened to fumble that when I was lucky to get my hands on him.”
It was another solid effort by Martin, who also recorded a quarterback hit during his 19 defensive snaps.
“I just wanted to go out there and do everything right. Have my right angle, have good get-offs, setting edges because this is a zone team—they hit the edge,” he said of the Bears, “and get after the passer standing on the edge and I felt like I accomplished that.”
Martin, 25, has made plays in all three of the Cardinals’ preseason games. He had three tackles and a pass defensed in the Hall of Fame Game and then registered a half-sack and tackle for loss last week against Oakland.
Martin is playing how he’s practiced, according to head coach Bruce Arians.
“He’s been outstanding,” Arians said recently. “He’s another guy that kind of became our best special teams player. His pass-rush skills as his strength has gotten better. For him, standing up, that took some time having always played with his hand down. But, he’s got that length and he’s got a couple of good pass-rush moves now so, yeah, he’s earning his stripes.”
A defensive end in college, Martin, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 272 pounds, transitioned to outside linebacker in 2015, after his rookie year. In the two seasons since, he’s made 16 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 29 games.
“My pass rushing and just having overall confidence in myself to go out there and complete the task,” he said, referring to his progress. “This being my third year now at the position, I feel so much more comfortable doing every thing that Coach Bob (Sanders) and Coach (James) Bettcher ask me to do in the defense, and that’s the biggest thing when you’re playing outside backer because there’s so much to do.”
Besides Martin, the other outside linebackers in training camp looking for playing time behind Golden and Jones are Alex Bazzie, Cap Capi, Jarvis Jones and Terrence Waugh. Jones is the only one with an NFL resume, though, having played the past four seasons in Pittsburgh. But Jarvis Jones has been dealing with a back issue, keeping him on the sidelines for much of camp.
In other words, Martin appears to be the clear front-runner to be that third outside linebacker.
“He is right now,” Arians said. “Jarvis isn’t practicing, so he’s winning that job.”
It would be quite the story: from special teams standout to key contributor defensively. It’s a story Martin hopes is written in 2017.
“The biggest thing is just make an impact, on special teams and hopefully being that guy on that third down sub package to be able to rush the passer with my guys out there. That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “That was my goal coming in, to be able to get in that third-down package. I’m trying to showcase it in camp and in the games that I can be out there and be dependable, be that third guy they can depend on.”