Apr 26, 2011, 2:53 PM EDT
The eleventh of twelve previews analyzing a dozen players essential to the Irish making a BCS run next season. For more, check the previews of Braxston Cave, Sean Cwynar, Jonas Gray, Trevor Robinson, Robert Blanton, Theo Riddick, Steve Filer, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Tyler Eifert and Ben Turk.
How off the radar was Zack Martin heading into the 2010 season? Consider that everybody — Notre Dame included — was spelling his name wrong, subbing in an ‘h’ when Martin spelled his first name with a ‘k.’
Any misconception of Martin as a player was cleared up quickly, when in the opening days of Brian Kelly’s first spring practice he was slotted as the starting left tackle, and never left the starting lineup, one of only 11 players to start all 13 games for the Irish.
Martin’s pedigree always seemed good enough; he had offers from Michigan, Stanford and UCLA, and a four-star ranking by Rivals, but the fact that Martin would turn out to be the Irish’s best NFL offensive line prospect since Ryan Harris seemed to surprise everybody but the new Irish coaching staff.
Even better for Notre Dame, Martin was allowed to develop during his freshman year, and he’ll have three years of eligibility left when he enters the fall as a part of an offensive line that only needs to replace Chris Stewart.
Martin’s opening assignment was a doozy, matched with All-Big Ten defensive end Ryan Kerrigan in the first start of his career. But Martin held his own, and in his first year on the job graded out as the top offensive lineman along the Irish front, a shock when you consider both Trevor Robinson and Chris Stewart were named to preseason watch lists.
With Taylor Dever out for a few weeks with an injury, Martin made the shift from left tackle to the right side, allowing senior Matt Romine to slide into the left tackle position. Martin didn’t miss a beat, and shifted back to left tackle after the Western Michigan game, helping pace the Irish offensive line as they came into their own after Dayne Crist was injured and the Irish relied on a power running game to help close the season on a winning streak.
Martin’s postseason kudos weren’t of the national ilk, but were certainly impressive. He was named the Most Valuable Linemen of the Sun Bowl following the Irish victory over Miami and was also named the 2010 Guardian of the Year as the top Notre Dame offensive lineman.
100 word preview for Zack Martin in 2011:
If Zack Martin’s first season starting at left tackle was about exceeding expectations, year two should be about imposing his will. After a strong debut, Martin will be the anchor of a veteran offensive line and expectations should be raised for Ed Warinner’s group. With the size and athleticism necessary to play well in both the run and pass game, Martin should support whoever ends up winning Chris Stewart’s vacated left guard position. Even more importantly, if the Irish are going to reach the goals they set for themselves, they’ll need Martin leading the way for ND in the trenches.
Importance in 2011:
Uber. No offense to Sam Young and Paul Duncan, but Martin is the first top-shelf athlete the Irish have had at offensive tackle since Harris played in the early days of Charlie Weis. With Christian Lombard coming on strong this spring, Notre Dame will have a trio of tackles able to play, with fifth-year senior Taylor Dever manning the right side.