Jul 21, 2014, 3:22 PM EDT
No, he’s not his brother. But center Nick Martin should solidify his standing as one of the top centers in the country in 2014. After an injury ended his debut season in the starting lineup early, Martin returns healthy after knee surgery, giving Notre Dame a key anchor in the middle of Harry Hiestand’s offensive line.
With Steve Elmer and Christian Lombard surrounding him, the interior of the Irish offensive line has the ability to move the point of attack and played athletic, power football. All three could’ve been collegiate tackles, but will combine to add size, bulk and athleticism to an offensive line that could get better even after losing two early picks to the NFL Draft.
Martin will be at the center of it all, anchoring the line and leading it as well. Let’s take a closer look at the Indianapolis native.
6’4.5″, 295 lbs.
Senior, No. 72
Even with his brother already on the roster, Notre Dame wasn’t a lock to land Martin. Spending the majority of his time committed to Kentucky, Martin only flipped to the Irish in January, after taking official visits to both campuses. (Martin’s father played football at UK.)
The Wildcats’ loss was the Irish’s gain, and while he was only a three-star prospect, Martin had offers from programs like Michigan, Iowa, Tennessee, Stanford and UCLA. Almost a replica size-wise with his brother, Kelly talked about what the Irish were getting in signing Nick Martin, perhaps a sign of his move to the interior of the line.
“The common theme here with the offensive linemen is their ability to move,” Kelly said. “And at 6’4″, 270, he’s got really good athletic ability, and he finishes off blocks. He’s got a demeanor again. That offensive line demeanor for us is the way they play the game. And he plays it very, very well.”
Freshman Season (2011): Did not see action.
Sophomore Season (2012): Played in all 13 games for Notre Dame, serving primarily as an offensive lineman on multiple special teams units.
Junior Season (2013): Moved into the starting lineup at center. Started and played in 11 games before a season-ending knee injury ended his year against BYU. Part of an offensive line that allowed just eight sacks, the second-best total in all of the FBS.
Expect Martin to move quickly out of his brother’s shadow in 2014. As a center, Martin has the size and athletic ability that Kelly and Hiestand demand. That should allow the Irish to run a variety of blocking schemes and to move at pace with Notre Dame reutrning to the spread offense that built Kelly’s reputation.
While Zack’s national profile struggled because he wasn’t the prototype size at left tackle, Nick doesn’t have those limitations as a center. After playing behind Braxston Cave for two seasons, he’s a more athletic option than the former three-year starter, and will likely join his brother in the NFL after his five years in South Bend are up.
Martin won’t be able to brag about an Ironman streak like his brother. But he’s on pace to have a very impressive career in South Bend, likely serving as a three-year starter at center who has the ability to play just about anywhere on the offensive line. In 2014, we’ll get a true idea of just how good Nick is. And hints coming out of summer workouts have the answer likely being: Very Good.
Looking back at Notre Dame’s offense in 2010-2012, Kelly was open and honest about some of the athletic limitations that Cave had as the Irish center. While Martin doesn’t bring the physical strength that Cave did to the front line, he’s capable of doing everything Notre Dame demands from an interior offensive lineman.
Martin is a very good center. If he stays healthy (and the Irish win), he’ll likely find his way onto the Rimington Trophy’s short list. After seeing his older brother ignored in the postseason awards circuit, it’d be good to see the little brother recognized.
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