Rookie Martin makes quick impression in Dallas

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IRVING, Texas (AP) — Zack Martin's best test so far of durability as a pro came with a right ankle injury serious enough to keep him out of practice for a week with the Cowboys.

The rookie right guard's response: I'm playing.

"It certainly fits with everything I know about him," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. "He's a little bit of a throwback. He reminds you of linemen who played 25 years ago. He just has this way about him."

Martin is possibly the last first-round piece of a rebuilt offensive line for the Cowboys, a versatile blocker with more starts at Notre Dame than anyone in school history. And now he's the first rookie lineman named to the Pro Bowl in Dallas franchise history.

"It's kind of an exclamation point on the season that he's had," said center Travis Frederick, a first-round pick last year and another first-time Pro Bowl player. "We talked about it several times throughout the season, how he's never really come in and played like a rookie. He's always played like a veteran."

Tyron Smith, a two-time Pro Bowl pick at left tackle, was Dallas' top choice from 2011.

Martin's resolve was tested just weeks after the Cowboys picked him at No. 16. He was already the guy Dallas took instead of Johnny Manziel, who was unexpectedly still on the board. And then he got caught up in a play that ended standout linebacker Sean Lee's season in the first full squad workout of the offseason.

Lee was about to engage with Martin in a noncontact drill when his left knee gave way, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament. There was video for all to see, and it was easy to forget that Lee's knee buckled before Martin rolled over the top of him.

Martin stood tall when he was questioned about the play by reporters.

"It sucks to be kind of grouped into that play and him getting hurt," Martin said at the time. "I think he would say it first over anyone. You've got to move forward."

And that was the message from many of the veterans who pulled Martin aside, including Lee and tight end Jason Witten.

Harry Hiestand, Martin's line coach at Notre Dame, knew from the outset that his old pupil wouldn't have trouble getting over the Lee incident, promising that "he's not reliving it."

Martin has spent the last five months proving it as a key component of soon-to-be NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray's pursuit of all-time league leader Emmitt Smith's franchise record from 19 years ago. He has 1,745 yards, needing 29 yards to beat Smith's total of 1,773.

The 24-year-old Martin sprained his right ankle in a win at Philadelphia that gave the Cowboys the NFC East lead, and played without practicing in a division-clinching win over Indianapolis last week.

He came out only after the 42-7 victory was in hand, and now he's practicing again with Dallas (11-4) visiting Washington (4-11) in the regular-season finale Sunday.

"The trainers did a great job all week getting the swelling and all of that stuff out of there," Martin said. "So it was really just getting comfortable with it and running around."

Hiestand's lasting memory of Martin is the way he would come to meetings every day with a vibe that said, "Hey, coach, don't worry about this. We got this stuff."

These days it's more like "I'm going to keep my mouth shut and work." He's sure that's the best way to make it as a lineman in the NFL.

And he's well on his way to making it.

"I think you can tell he's a natural leader," Witten said. "Obviously, he's very gifted, very composed for a young player being thrown in the trenches day one. He's got a bright future."

And that's what Witten thought long before Martin made a little Pro Bowl history for the tradition-rich Cowboys.


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