PULLMAN – The enormous potential that lies in sophomore wide receiver Tavares Martin, and how untapped it remains, was on full display during a recent Washington State football practice.
During a 7-on-7 passing drill, Martin found an unimpeded path in which to run past a defensive back and unleashed his prodigious straight-line speed, immediately creating a sizable gap between himself and the defender.
He ran so fast, however, that he easily beat the quarterback’s throw to the spot on the field, and so lost what leverage he would have had if he had timed the route to coincide with the football’s arrival. He didn’t use his body to shield the defender away from the ball, either, but on that play it did not matter because he jumped so high the defensive back never had a chance at the football.
The receiver never redshirted, and so he did not have a year to acclimatize himself to college and a higher level of football. The athletic traits that garnered scholarship offers from more than 20 schools, including a few recent national champions, got him on the field early, but perhaps deprived him of a relatively stress-free opportunity to refine his skills.
“Right now just working through some rawness, but he’s had a good attitude about it,” said outside receivers coach Dave Nichol. “The thing you do see is the speed. And when he’s confident in what he’s supposed to do, he plays really fast, and we’ve got to get him to play fast all the time.”
Martin is possibly WSU’s fastest player, at least on offense, and was a dangerous kick returner last season. His combination of size and height, if harnessed, will present matchup problems for defensive coordinators who choose between covering him with a taller, slower player, or a shorter, quicker one.
While backing up Gabe Marks at the X receiver position – which lines up near the sideline on the quarterback’s right side – Martin contributed enough to justify burning his redshirt, and occasionally made key plays, such as a 27-yard touchdown reception in WSU’s overtime win at Oregon.
“I would like to say I wish I’d started, but just learning behind Gabe made me a better player right now,” Martin said.
The Cougars need him to make a significant jump in productivity in order to replace Dom Williams, who had more than 1,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns at the Z position last year. Martin mostly worked the left side of the field in high school, so turning over his right shoulder this year should not be too much of an adjustment.
The most obvious change has been Martin’s size. After looking like a blurry red toothpick last year at 6-foot-1, 165 pounds, the sophomore is still pretty thin, but less likely to snap in half at 182 pounds.
“I know I was small coming in, so this semester I just stuck with the program, stayed with it and put on some muscle,” Martin said.
The extra strength allows Martin to make use of what skills he has picked up over his first year on campus. One can only be so violent with ones hands, or so effective with their releases, if one doesn’t have the muscle to push a defender back a little bit.
And a spot on the first team gives the receiver the confidence to try things out in practice, such as coming back on a vertical route or putting a second move on a defender, without worrying if there’s another rep on the way.
“Now I can really work my technique,” Martin said. “Last year I was relying on my speed, trying to outrun them. Now I can work my technique and then use my speed.”
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