In a crowded secondary filled with competition for playing time, Justin Martin as emerged as a leader. The outspoken senior has drawn praise from coaches and players, and he says he approaches practice with a simple approach.
“Control what you can control,” Martin said on Monday after the Vols’ fall camp practice inside Neyland Stadium. “I like to control how hard I go everyday and my effort, and that’s all I can do.”
The competition for spots in the Vols’ secondary hasn’t hurt Martin. In his opinion, it’s helped everybody.
“The best thing that proves that is that you can be starting one day and if you have a bad practice and someone else has a good practice, then they’ll be starting,” Martin stated. “I love the talent level. We’ve got freshmen stepping up. From Cheyenne (Labruzza) and Shawn (Shamburger), they’ve all be playing good football.”
Sophomore wide receiver Brandon Johnson has seen that competition from the other side of the ball. He had high praise for Martin on Monday, talking about the senior’s transformation from last fall. Johnson said that Martin is a totally different player now than he was last season.
“I wouldn’t say his approach really changed,” Johnson said. “He has fun out there. His knowledge of the game has upped his game. He did add on to his frame. His knowledge, disguising coverages, knowing what’s coming and route combinations.
“I feel like he’s really doing a great job.”
When Jones spoke to the media after practice, he emphasized the ongoing competition in the Vols secondary. In his eyes, Tennessee isn’t starting two corners or two safeties. They need everyone to step up and be ready to play. Jones underlined just how crowded that secondary is on Monday morning.
“In the secondary there’s a lot of great position battles,” Jones said. “The term ‘starters’ has gone out ten years ago. You need a number of starters. We need three or four starting corners. It’s not about taking the first snap, it’s about repetitions.”
Martin only started two games in his junior season after starting six games as a freshman in 2015. Last season, Martin only recorded 19 tackles, and most of that production came early in the season. Martin was suspended for a violation of team rules during the season and played sparingly after the South Carolina game.
He’s ready to bounce back in 2017 by focusing on the details of his game.
“I just control what I can control. I don’t let one particular play stay over me for the rest of practice of the rest of a game,” Martin said.
Tennessee will need him to control opposing receivers this season. With Shaq Wiggins temporarily sidelined due to a hip injury, Martin is even more critical to the Vols’ defense. Although Jones doesn’t like the term “starters,” Martin’s experience makes him one of the Vols’ most important players on the first unit on defense.