This article is a part of our 2012 Player Projections series. During the summer months Blue & Gold Illustrated will be evaluating each player on Notre Dame’s projected two-deep depth chart — reviewing their careers to this point and discussing expectations for the year to come.
Irish senior Zack Martin has started at tackle in all 26 games in which he has played at Notre Dame.
Zack Martin — LT
Height: 6-foot-4 Weight: 304
Experience: 26 appearances, 26 starts
After sitting out his freshman season, senior Zack Martin has started in every game for the past two seasons at tackle for the Irish. He played two games on the right side of the line in his first year before becoming a permanent fixture on the left. Notre Dame selected Martin as the team’s Guardian of the Year in back-to-back years, and he was also the Most Valuable Lineman at the 2010 Sun Bowl in a 33-17 win over Miami.
“If you’re going to single out one guy that has consistently answered the bell for us, it has been Zack each and every week,” said former Irish offensive line coach Ed Warriner last fall. “It’s absolutely crucial at his position that he play well, but I think our expectations are realistic that he can go in against any competition and hold his own, if not do well.”
Martin’s consistency, a key attribute for a left tackle, started during his first year on campus when he worked exclusively with the scout. Former teammates say he got the most out of each practice during that year and made major leaps that allowed him to secure a starting spot right away as a sophomore.
At 285 pounds, Martin was an undersized tackle in his first season on the field. Last year he added close to 25 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame while managing to keep most of the athleticism that bottles oncoming defenders. This spring he looked more comfortable in his body and is expected to take another step forward.
Martin will be counted on this year to anchor the left side of Notre Dame’s offensive line, which is expected to be the strongest group on the Irish offense this year and a regular point of attack.
“The left side better be a strength of ours because if it’s not, we’re going to be in for a long year,” said new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. “We need the center, left guard, left tackle to play at a high level all year. Very experienced players with a lot of talent that have played good football for us. They need to continue to improve their game at a high level.”
As one of Notre Dame’s most experienced players on offense, Martin knows this season will be about him stepping up as a leader on the field. For him that doesn’t necessarily mean being more vocal, but making sure he doesn’t grow complacent after two consistent seasons in the same role.
What’s a Good Season?
Martin is currently the 18th ranked tackle in college football, according to Phil Steele’s 2012 College Football Preview. With a strong showing in his senior season, the Indianapolis native should be able to jump into the No. 10-12 range nationally and put himself in a good position for the NFL Draft next spring.
He still has one season of eligibility remaining after 2012, but it’s not clear whether he’ll want or need it before moving on to the next level. So, how does he make the jump?
There are always places for any player to improve. For Martin, that means becoming more physically dominant in run blocking. His footwork makes stopping rushers off the edge an easy task, but he has yet to assert himself as a bowl-you-over pancake blocker in his first two seasons.
The good news is this year’s offense should afford Martin plenty of opportunities to do exactly that. The combination of a talented backfield and a largely unproven receiving corps means the run game will be crucial to Notre Dame’s success moving the ball this season.
The arrival of new offensive line coach and running game coordinator Harry Hiestand and his blue-collar approach make it even more likely that the Irish will run the ball more in 2012. With two new faces on the right side of the line, Martin and left guard Chris Watt will need to be the Irish battering ram on the front line this year.