Even though the Notre Dame Fighting Irish changed head coaches from Charlie Weis to Brian Kelly, the build and style of their offensive line has remained the same up to this point. The Irish left tackle, Zach Martin enters his fifth year with the team as a grad student. After not playing during his freshman year, Martin has started every single game since and the first game of the season against Temple will be the 40th in a row.
Martin is an extremely effective technical left tackle for the Irish and excels in large part because of it. He is not an overwhelming athlete and uses his understanding of the game to play at a much higher level. Between his understanding of angles, how well he mirrors, and hand technique, Martin seems to do everything in his power to compensate for his weaknesses. While Martin is not slow footed, he is not great at sliding to the far outside to protect the edge and his strength is enough to get by at the collegiate level but could be far more of an issue in the NFL. Martin projects as a fringe day three pick that would likely start out as a swing tackle, but if he can get stronger while maintaining the level of intensity he plays with, especially in the running game, he could end up a starter. If that increase in strength shows up this year, he could be picked on the second day of the draft.
Vitals & Build
Martin is listed at 6’4” 308lbs and he is an above average athlete. He moves pretty well laterally but he looks impressive accelerating going up the field. From a strength standpoint, Martin is relatively average but understands that and compensates for it in the running game. Martin appears to have the frame to add more bulk and continuing to get stronger will be key for his future in the NFL, but the concern, which might be a relatively small one, is that he is maxed out as he enters the league. With a program like Notre Dame, who should have a fantastic strength program, it is difficult to imagine that the move to the NFL would make that much of a difference and the training there would be so much better than Notre Dame that he would suddenly have an increase in growth that he could not get to in South Bend.
Martin does not have an overwhelming amount of power but he is able to compensate for it because he fires off of the ball so hard that he creates momentum quickly and generates power. With that, Martin appears to play with a ton of emotion and seems to have the ability to really get himself fired up to block for the run. As a result, Martin looks like a bull attacking defensive linemen. When he is right, which is more often than not, he locks on and just drives and goes until the whistle blows.
There are a couple risks with how Martin run blocks and they occasionally show up but not as often as one might think. The first is that Martin can occasionally miss his mark and not hit the target flush which opens up a lane for the opponent to attack the ball carrier. This is extremely rare as Martin does a great job of consistently taking good angles and using his hands well. The other is that defensive lineman will occasionally get him leaning too far forward and use a quick move to get past him. Especially going to the NFL, this could pop up more often, but again, he seems to be effective enough with his technique that he avoids it happening too often.
For as hard as he fires off of the ball, Martin has good body control and is able to gather himself quickly. Martin can help with a double team, attacking with full force to help his guard establish control of a block, then turn and go get another opponent with every bit of energy he had on the first block, lock on, and drive that player off of the ball.
The intensity he brings and the pure passion he brings with that effort make him extremely enjoyable to watch as he does it as well. It seems characteristic of a player who has always been slightly undersized and had to play like that to survive and excel. If Martin can get stronger and maintain that same level of intensity, he could go from being someone who needs to play that way to someone who dominates and plays with everything he has in him. Not only is that great for Martin, but it sets a tone for the rest of the offensive line as well as the rest of the locker room in terms of effort, which is always good to have.
Martin is an effective player when it comes to getting to the second level and making the block on the second level defender. His use of angles and his speed going forward makes him extremely effective and has the ability to catch some defenders a little by surprise. He is also able to pull if needed and kick out to lead block on the outside.
Martin has an above average ability to slide and get outside to protect the edge. He can get be beaten to the outside and simply not be able to get out far enough, fast enough to make the block. Where Martin excels is in how well he mirrors the opponent. Martin can get beaten, but it is rare that he is fooled. He does a good job of staying in front of the opponent.
As long as he can get there to cut off the block, Martin can handle speed pretty well. He can control the opponent or at least push him outside of the play. Martin has a little more trouble when it comes to taking on power. With Martin, the way he operates as a run blocker is in part because he is not an overpowering force. He takes advantage of momentum as much as he possibly can. That is not there when it comes to pass pro, so he is at a disadvantage when it comes to pure strength and has to rely on technique to be effective. For the most part, he is able to do that and has a good base, anchors well, and can hold his ground. The concern for Martin is that some of the opponents he faces that can generate the same kind of momentum he does on offense can get into his body and drive him backward.
Like with his run blocking, more strength would make a huge difference for Martin and continuing to work on trying to protect the edge against the furthest outside speed rush. The technique and ability is there; the physical ability needs to catch up for him to take another step forward.
Martin has good hand use and makes use of a good punch, especially in the running game. Momentum obviously helps, so this is something he can continue to improve in the passing game and help to slow down and control opponents. Martin is able to use his hands to control them and keep them in front of him once he has engaged his block. Once he has made the block, it is extremely rare that he will lose it. Opponents get the best of them when they are able to keep his hands from getting into their body.
Martin is smart and judicious with his steps. He rarely wastes a step and mirrors extremely well. Martin takes good angles, wastes little motion and is able to be extremely efficient. He does need to work to get better at protect the furthest edges of the pocket from the outside rush, but Martin does a good job of taking away the inside lane.
Martin is at his most impressive when he comes off of the ball and goes forward. He has a great first step and really goes downhill and enables him to get to the opponent quickly, which makes it difficult for them to react and counter. He is able to help with double teams or get to the second level effectively in addition to kicking out and pulling.
There is no system that really jumps out for Martin in the NFL. He could probably do well in a zone blocking scheme but he could play in a number of different schemes and regardless of which one he lands, Martin needs to continue improving his power. At this point, his early fit appears to be as a swing tackle that can fill in at left or right tackle should an injury occur. If Martin can continue to gain strength and improve his ability to generate power, he could end up starting at one of those spots at the next level while providing good pass protection.
|Sat, Aug. 31||vs. Temple|
|Sat, Sept. 7||at Michigan|
|Sat, Sept. 14||at Purdue|
|Sat, Sept. 21||vs. Michigan State|
|Sat, Sept. 28||vs. Oklahoma|
|Sat, Oct. 5||vs. Arizona State|
|Sat, Oct. 19||vs. USC|
|Sat, Oct. 26||at Air Force|
|Sat, Nov. 2||vs. Navy|
|Sat, Nov. 9||at Pittsburgh|
|Sat, Nov. 23||vs. BYU|
|Sat, Nov. 30||at Stanford|
Arizona State provides a unique test for Martin because of the way they move their talent around. Carl Bradford could end up across from him as an outside linebacker but the ultimate combination of technique and drive in college football, Will Sutton, could end up on him as a defensive end. The following week, the Irish host the USC Trojans and they have one of the better speed rushers in the country in their hybrid rusher, Morgan Breslin. BYU will have one of the best edge rushers in the country, who is tremendous with his understanding of technique in Kyle Van Noy. The regular season finale in Palo Alto will have Martin facing all kinds of power players from the Stanford front seven.
Martin’s style and situation is similar to that of Charles Brown of the New Orleans Saints. Like Martin, Brown was undersized coming out of USC but has not really been able to add weight. He was drafted by the Saints as a fourth round pick and developed as a swing tackle. With Jermon Bushrod now in Chicago, Brown was able to win the starting left tackle job. It remains to be seen how well he performs in the role, but Martin could have a similar path in the NFL.
There is no question that Zach Martin understands the position of offensive tackle. The question facing him is how far his physical ability can take him and how much it can improve going forward. Martin is extremely technically proficient and does everything he can to make up for the dominant physical ability he lacks. Still, Martin is an extremely effective offensive tackle for the Irish and should have another good season, but if he can add more strength and improve his overall athleticism, he could take a huge step forward as a player. The difference could be a potential day three pick and a solid day two prospect.