Zack Martin ND

2011 in 100 words… Zack Martin

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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.

Player Overview:

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.

2010 Season:

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.

Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”