IRVING, Texas — Friday marked Zack Martin’s first practice of what figures to be a long and productive NFL career.
And while the top pick of the Dallas Cowboys (16th overall) in the 2014 NFL Draft was definitely taking in his new surroundings, he was also quite focused on doing whatever he could to ensure he delivers on the immense expectations which accompany being a first-round pick of one of the most talked-about and followed teams in the league.
"It was good to get out on the field and back to playing football," Martin said of his first practice as an NFL player.
The 6-foot-4, 308-pound native of Indianapolis spent his entire four-year stay at Notre Dame playing tackle, but from the moment he was drafted, it was clear he was coming to Dallas to play guard. And in practice on Friday, the start of a two-day minicamp for Cowboys rookies, that’s where he lined up, at right guard.
"It felt fine," Martin said of his new position. "Getting a little guard work in (at the Senior Bowl in) Mobile definitely helped. (I want to) just keep working at it and getting better every day."
In Dallas, the 23-year-old is again wearing No. 70, much like he did during his time in South Bend, another reason for him to already feel comfortable in what is basically his new office at Valley Ranch.
And while some of his fellow rookies already see being in the NFL as a job, he admits it hasn’t quite hit him that football is now his full-time occupation but that doesn’t mean he won’t realize that pretty quickly as he gets more acclimated to how things work in the professional ranks.
"I don’t know if that’s hit me yet. I just try to be the same guy on the field every day, be consistent and play the game the right way," Martin said.
One way he knows he can gain that much-needed consistency, a constant battle for young players in any sport, and play the game the right way is by absorbing all he can from those who have already been in his position, the Cowboys veteran o-linemen who know what a big adjustment it is to go from the collegiate to the professional game, those big unsung guys who have already been in the trenches and know exactly what it takes not just to secure a starting spot, but more importantly to make that spot their own.
Many of those linemen, guys like veteran Doug Free, 2013 top pick Travis Frederick and ’11 top pick Tyron Smith, were watching the rookies work on Friday morning, but Martin wasn’t at all intimidated by having them size up him and his fellow rookies.
"They’re a great group of guys and they’re willing to help you whenever you need it. Travis, Doug and Tyron, all those guys have been great," he said.
And for those wondering, yes he has already picked the brain of his new teammates to learn tricks of the trade about not only how they made it through their rookie season, but how they continue to improve and become even more consistent players on a daily basis.
"(They have) just helped me with techniques because techniques are something you got to get used to in reps, they’re like another coach on the field," Martin said. "Doug’s been through it for a bunch of years now. Maybe if he sees something that coach doesn’t see, he’ll come over and correct me."
However, his new teammates aren’t the only ones he’s asking questions of. He’s also learning all he can from Dallas offensive line coach Bill Callahan, another great resource of information for young o-linemen like himself.
"Great teacher, very into detail," Martin said of Callahan. "If a little thing’s off, he’s going to correct you, so he’s very detail oriented. You have to pay attention to what you’re doing out on the field."
And as is the case with every rookie who is new to Valley Ranch, they practice without the club’s iconic star on their helmets until club brass feel like the youngsters have earned the right to wear it.
That practice was one of the first things current head coach Jason Garrett addressed in a meeting with the rookies participating, a group which numbers around 30 with around two dozen undrafted free agents hoping to be asked back for Organized Team Activities (OTAs).
For Martin, who admits being an NFL rookie is a lot like being a freshman in college again, paying his dues once again is something he clearly has no problem with.
"Yeah, we had a meeting about expectations and you’ve got to earn the star. We realize we’re rookies and we’re at the bottom of the barrel," he said. "We’ve got a ways to go and we’re willing to work for it."
Zack Martin has only been a Dallas Cowboy for just over a week now, but as he continues going through his first minicamp with his fellow rookies and in the process preparing for OTAs, a mandatory minicamp in June and training camp starting in late July, the former Fighting Irish standout does so knowing how many eyes are going to be focused on him from here on out.
But such is life for a first-round pick of one of the most recognizable brands in sports. However, those are expectations this talented and versatile young lineman welcomes with open arms.
"First impressions are huge. Anytime there’s a lot of expectations on you, you want to be able to perform and live up to those expectations," Martin said.