OXNARD, Calif. — Ask anybody associated with the Dallas Cowboys what are offensive lineman Zack Martin‘s best traits and the usual superlatives are said.

“Holy cow,” Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said this week. “To me, Zack: leader, tremendous command, just the toughness, and really, he raises the expectations of everyone around him. He does a tremendous job. He’s not a loud talker. He’s not a big rah-rah guy. He’s not going to give any rah-rah speeches, but when he talks, when he’s in the huddle, there’s a presence that raises the level for everyone.”

But there’s another trait Martin has shown for much of his seven seasons that does not receive as much recognition: his physical balance.

A common refrain for every offensive lineman from all NFL coaches is “Stay up.” They don’t want linemen on the ground for fear of injury.

Martin doesn’t hear it often, though. He’s always up.

“I think once I saw him trip, but never like during a play,” Cowboys guard Connor McGovern said. “Rarely ever on the ground. … [If] he gets tripped up, it’s another player, or he stepped in a hole or something.”


Martin’s game jersey is rarely dirty, and that has little to do with most games being played on artificial surfaces. Like a surfer, raging through a gigantic wave, Martin stays off the ground.

“I would think balance is one of the most, if not the most important — especially for an offensive lineman,” Martin said. “There’s so much balance because you’ve got these big guys trying to throw you around, at the top of the rush they’re making moves. Just that natural balance that you have is huge in what we do.”

Martin said he has always had unbelievable balance, calling it a combination of core strength and his 6-foot-4 and 315-pound frame.

“When you watch tape, the guys that are playing with a good base, their shoulders back, moving with their feet in the ground, those are some of the things,” Martin said. “If you’re doing those technical things, the balance comes with it.”

Martin made the Pro Bowl and was a first- or second-team All-Pro in each of his first six seasons. A concussion and calf injury forced him to miss six games last season, ending his streak of accolades. If Martin were to earn four more Pro Bowl appearances, he would fall in franchise history right behind former defensive tackle Bob Lilly and tight end Jason Witten, who each had 11 Pro Bowls.

Among interior linemen in Cowboys’ history, only Pro Football Hall of Famer Larry Allen (10) has been selected to more Pro Bowls. In 2014, Martin became the third rookie in team history to earn All-Pro honors.

Martin is constantly searching for perfection.

“You see it all the time; things you don’t understand how it’s done,” McGovern said of Martin’s play. “His footwork how every time it’s almost perfect and if he does get outside it, he’s able to get right back into placement. Just able to watch these little things that he sees, he takes everything so seriously and if he comes off the field as soon as he’s done taking a rep, he’s asking me, ‘How was my footwork there?’ Just how he approaches every single step even when we’re not on the field, the little things he takes care of the right way.”

How many times has Martin felt off his balance? “All the time,” he said. But just how out of whack could he be?

“You’re off balance, but then you recover because you have that balance,” Martin said. “Absolutely. That’s why it’s so important. You’re going against these big, strong guys that are pushing and pulling. If you get off balance, it’s that recovery that you can get back into the play, back into position in front of your man.”

Former Cowboys All-Pro center Travis Frederick could not remember the exact opponent, but he recalls a red zone play in which Martin was bent backward in a “Matrix”-like position because a defender had a hand on Martin’s face mask. Instead of going to the ground, Martin recovered.

“Anybody else would have fallen over for sure,” Frederick said.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott‘s job is easier because he has Martin blocking for him.

What’s the most impressive thing he has seen from Martin?

“Psssh, what doesn’t he do that is impressive?” Prescott said. “Maybe a couple years ago, he was locked in on a block. A good player hit a move on him, and Zack literally spun around and got back in front of the guy and continued on the block. I don’t know, man. That guy is impressive. He’s a leader with everything that he does; he does things the right way. Obviously, then you just watch his play. He’s the best there is in the business. I’m blessed just to have him up there protecting me.”

Martin, 30, is under contract with Dallas through 2024. He was named to the 2010s All-Decade team, along with Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith, who has one more Pro Bowl appearance than Martin.

While the honor was “cool,” he will reflect more whenever his career ends.

“It’s what you have to do now,” Martin said. “There’s still a lot I want to achieve and I know this team wants to achieve. The moment you stop and think about all that stuff is the moment you start going downhill, so I try not to do that.”