The narratives surrounding the Ravens’ wide receiver corps — the tortured history of draft failures, the No. 32-ranked passing attack, an offensive system built around the running game — didn’t dissuade Tee Martin at all.
Martin jumped at the chance to join the Ravens’ staff this offseason as its new wide receivers coach, and two weeks into OTAs, he is increasingly feeling at home with his new group, headlined by a pair of recent first-round draft picks and former No. 4 overall pick Sammy Watkins.
“We’ve had rookie minicamp, we’ve had some football schools, and today was our fourth OTA practice,” Martin said after the team’s OTA workout June 2. ” … It’s still early to pass judgment. What I can speak to is 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, 42, spent the past two seasons as the assistant head coach and receivers coach at the University of Tennessee, and he was the offensive coordinator at USC for three years before that.
Martin, the quarterback for Tennessee’s national championship team in 1998, said he has had no issue with making the jump from the college game to the pros.
“Coaching football is pretty much the same regardless of where you go,” Martin said. “Great players just want to get better. Every day for the last two weeks, I’ve talked to the receivers about why we’re here. This time of year is to get better. It’s to get better at our craft individually, and as a unit, and, ultimately, as a team.”
Martin and pass game specialist Keith Williams were hired this offseason to replace former passing game coordinator David Culley, who left to become the head coach of the Houston Texans. To hear general manager Eric DeCosta say it, their contributions began well before they hit the practice fields.
Shortly after the draft ended, DeCosta said, “It really helped having a couple of new sets of eyes on the offensive coaching staff. Their perspective on receivers was very beneficial.”
The Ravens selected a pair of receivers in this year’s draft, taking Rashod Bateman in the first round and Tylan Wallace in the fourth.
Now it’s Martin’s charge to get the most out of them, and a receivers group that also features Watkins, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay and James Proche, among others.
Martin said his relationship with Watkins dates to 2014, when Watkins trained in Los Angeles in preparation for the draft and worked out with Martin, then coaching at USC.
In Brown and Bateman, the Ravens are hoping they can finally find another 1,000-yard receiver; Torrey Smith (in 2013) remains the only receiver drafted by the Ravens who has had a 1,000-yard season with the team.
Optimism abounds on practice fields in June, but for the Ravens there seems ample reason for it. Brown led the Ravens with 769 receiving yards last year and had two strong games in the playoffs. Watkins enjoyed the best seasons of his career in Buffalo, where his offensive coordinator was current Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman. And Bateman looks to be an immediate impact talent whom the Ravens selected at No. 27 overall in this year’s draft.
The Ravens also overhauled the offensive line, adding veteran guard Kevin Zeitler, veteran tackle Alejandro Villanueva and moving Bradley Bozeman from guard to center. They also should have All-Pro tackle Ronnie Stanley, who missed the final 10 games last season with an ankle injury.
Of course, it all starts with Jackson, and as a former star college quarterback who also played in the NFL, Martin can appreciate what the Ravens have there.
“Seeing Lamar up close in person, it was way better than I thought,” Martin said, “and I thought he was really good before I came here. … I have the ultimate respect for his skill-set and what he’s been able to do in the National Football League. And he’s still young, so it’s only going to get better.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of University of Tennessee Athletics