Tee Martin was a star college quarterback, leading Tennessee to a 13-0 season and the national championship in 1998. Martin can still throw a tight spiral when he wants to. However, the Ravens' new wide receivers coach doesn't plan to challenge Lamar Jackson to any playful throwing competitions.
"He throws the ball from so many different arm angles; I'll be sore after we try to challenge each other," Martin said, smiling. "Lamar up close in person, it was way better than I thought, and I thought he was really good before I came here."
Martin hopes to assist Jackson in a different way, helping Baltimore's wide receivers reach their full potential. Head Coach John Harbaugh hired Martin and Pass Game Specialist Keith Williams as new coaches on the staff to help maximize the talents of an intriguing group of receivers that Baltimore has assembled. With the exception of veteran Sammy Watkins, the Ravens' top wide receivers are players who have been in the NFL for two seasons or less – Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, James Proche II, and rookies Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace.
It's a group with terrific potential, and the Ravens are taking an innovative approach to unlocking it. Hiring Martin was part of the plan, and he has been an engaging presence on the practice field at OTAs while demonstrating drills and talking to receivers one-on-one. He's using his knowledge as both a player and coach to help the wide receivers understand how Baltimore's vision of taking its passing game to another level. Martin believes that being a former quarterback helps him relate to how wide receivers think.
"I think I give them the perspective of what the guy in the pocket sees," Martin said. "Sometimes at wide receiver, [you say], 'We're always open. The ball could've come to me.' But there's only one football, right? So, if I can help them understand progressions, if I can help them understand the mind of the quarterback and help them understand protections on a deeper level, it brings more meaning to how we run our route and the purpose of what we're doing."
It remains to be seen which wide receivers will make the biggest strides this season, and the competition for playing time and roles will be intense. But Martin likes the work ethic of the entire group. Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman has talked about putting new wrinkles into the passing game, and Martin sees receivers at OTAs who are willing to work and determined to succeed.
"We've improved on details, fundamentals and techniques of route running all the way down to stance and starts, how we get off the line of scrimmage in terms of releases, top of the routes, being more efficient at the top of the routes, creating more separation, and ultimately, catching the ball and making plays," Martin said. "That's pretty much been the focus as we're installing the bulk of our offense during this time.
"We haven't gotten to the meat of our offense yet, but we have gotten into some of the basic fundamentals and techniques of how we want to play the position, what we want to look like as the Baltimore Ravens receivers of 2021. So, we're getting there. Hopefully, by the end of minicamp, we can feel really good about what we've done in the offseason in preparation for training camp when we get back together."
Martin spent the past two seasons as the Assistant Head Coach and Wide Receivers Coach at Tennessee, after spending three seasons as Offensive Coordinator and Wide Receivers Coach at USC. His son, Amari Rodgers, was a star wide receiver at Clemson who was taken in the third round of this year's draft by the Green Bay Packers.
Rodgers is still Martin's favorite wide receiver, but now he views the Ravens' wide receivers as his new family. He's thrilled for an opportunity to coach at the NFL level, and to work with a talented group of receivers who are hungry to improve.
"Coaching football is pretty much the same regardless of where you go," Martin said. "Great players just want to get better. So, for me, in terms of my focus and in terms of my relationship with the players and their relationship with me, it's just been all about how I can help them be the best that they can be.
"What is that motivation for them? What are we here for? Every day for the last two weeks, I've talked to the receivers about why we're here. This time of the year is to get better. It's to get better at our craft individually and as a unit, and ultimately, as a team. So, the biggest difference, if there is a difference, is that in pro football, there's no class, there's no academic meeting, there's no recruiting, and I've been able to really just focus on my guys and them getting better individually and me getting better as a coach."