Notre Dame Football: Zack Martin

Irish lunch links

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
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Is there anything less fulfilling than a tie?

Irish lunch links

June, 3, 2014
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Jose Abreu is back all right.
The NFL draft came and gone, and, as we know by now, it was a pretty good one for Notre Dame. Here's a look at what those in NFL circles are saying about some of the drafted former Irish players and their new employers:

Zack Martin
Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Cowboys a draft of B, but he said Martin can make the Dallas offensive line among the best units in the NFL. … Todd McShay lists Martin as one of his favorites picks. … ESPNDallas.com's Todd Archer says the pick of Martin was the Cowboys' best move of the draft… ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins said the Cowboys went for the best player available. … ESPNDallas.com's Jean-Jacques Taylor says the Cowboys made the right move in passing on Johnny Manziel for Martin. … Archer says the Cowboys stayed Tony Romo-friendly by picking Martin. … Watkins says Martin may start at guard, but his future with the Cowboys is at right tackle.

Stephon Tuitt
Kiper gave the Steelers an A-, saying that Tuitt, at his 2012 level, can be a disruptive stud. … McShay lists Tuitt as one of his favorite picks, calling him a top-15 talent who is a great fit for Dick LeBeau. … Pittsburgh defensive line coach John Mitchell says Tuitt would've been a top-10 pick if he were healthy in 2013. … ESPN.com Steelers reporter Scott Brown says taking Tuitt in the second round was the club's best move. … Brown also says that Tuitt is part of a rookie group that will give the Steelers an immediate return.

Troy Niklas
In giving the Cardinals a draft grade of a B, Kiper says coach Bruce Arians might see some of what he loved about the Steelers' Heath Miller in Niklas. … ESPN.com Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss says Niklas solidified a tight end group that is the foundation of Arians' offense. … Weinfuss also says that Niklas is a long-term answer who will be a crucial blocker in the early going.

Louis Nix
Kiper gave the Texans an A-, saying that Nix is a steal at No. 83 if he is in decent shape and that Houston's defensive front is now extremely versatile. … ESPN.com Texans reporter Tania Ganguli says Nix could start early. … Ganguli also says Nix had a good attitude about his draft slide.

Best of the rest
ESPN.com' Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams says Chris Watt fills a need and could be an answer at right guard. … ESPN.com Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure writes that Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff stands behind Prince Shembo. … ESPN.com Giants reporter Dan Graziano says that Bennett Jackson is part of the franchise's character-driven plan. … ESPN.com Lions reporter Michael Rothstein says that T.J. Jones could end up being a surprise in the slot.
Notre Dame walked away from NFL draft weekend with eight of its former players getting picked, tied with Alabama for the second most of any school in the country, behind LSU's nine. The eight picks also marked the most in a single draft for the Irish in 20 years, as they had 10 draftees in 1994.

In addition, six former Notre Dame players signed with NFL clubs after the draft, with five of those players coming from last season's team.

Seven of Notre Dame's defensive starters from the Discover BCS National Championship following the 2012 season have now been drafted as well: Kapron Lewis-Moore (Ravens, 200th), Manti Te'o (Chargers, 38th) and Zeke Motta (Falcons, 244th) last year; Stephon Tuitt (Steelers, 46th), Louis Nix (Texans, 83rd), Prince Shembo (Falcons, 139th) and Bennett Jackson (Giants, 187th) this year.

It's not a stretch to say that linebacker Danny Spond, who also started against Alabama in the title game, was on track to be drafted prior to retiring before last season because of hemiplegic migraines. It's also worth noting that safety Jamoris Slaughter, who was drafted 175th overall by the Browns last year, started on the Irish's 2012 defense before suffering a season-ending Achilles' tear in Week 3. Two defensive starters from that title game, KeiVarae Russell and Matthias Farley, still have two years of eligibility left at Notre Dame.

Here's a recap of Notre Dame's 2014 draft weekend. Irish transfers Shaquelle Evans (fourth round, 114th overall) and Aaron Lynch (fifth, 150th) were both drafted as well.

DRAFTED

LT Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys (first round, 16th overall)

DE Stephon Tuitt, Pittsburgh Steelers (second, 46th)

TE Troy Niklas, Arizona Cardinals (second, 52nd)

NG Louis Nix, Houston Texans (third, 83rd)

LG Chris Watt, San Diego Chargers (third, 89th)

LB Prince Shembo, Atlanta Falcons (fourth, 139th)

CB Bennett Jackson, New York Giants (sixth, 187th)

WR TJ Jones, Detroit Lions (sixth, 189th)

UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT SIGNINGS

RB George Atkinson III, Oakland Raiders

LB Dan Fox, New York Giants

LB Carlo Calabrese, Cleveland Browns

QB Tommy Rees, Washington Redskins

NG Kona Schwenke, Kansas City Chiefs

C/G Mike Golic Jr., New Orleans Saints
As we noted earlier this week, this year's NFL draft has the chance to be one of the better ones for Notre Dame, historically speaking. It may also be the first one in 20 years in which three former Fighting Irish players get drafted in the first round, as the 1994 draft saw Bryant Young (7th), Aaron Taylor (16th) and Jeff Burris (27th) taken early.

With the draft approaching later tonight (8 ET, ESPN), here's one last look at the three potential first-rounders from Notre Dame this time around.

Zack Martin, LT. Mel Kiper Jr. has Martin ranked No. 8 on his Big Board . Todd McShay has him at No. 9 on his board . Kiper says Martin has been his biggest riser over the past month. Both analysts tout his quickness, and both say his length could eventually have him moving to the right side.

Stephon Tuitt, DE. Kiper has Tuitt at No. 25, while McShay has him at No. 27. Kiper loves the 6-foot-5, 304-pounder's ability to disrupt passing lanes, and both analysts love his ability to play in any system, though McShay says Tuitt needs to show more consistent effort.

Louis Nix, DT. Interestingly enough, Kiper has Nix at No. 49, while McShay has him at No. 36. Kiper says the zero technique is not as coveted as it used to be, while McShay liked Nix's tape better in 2012 than 2013.

Kiper ranked 100 players, with tight end Troy Niklas coming in at No. 68. McShay, who ranked 300 players, has Niklas at No. 59.

As for the rest of the Notre Dame haul, McShay has Chris Watt 163rd, TJ Jones 169th, Prince Shembo 172nd, Bennett Jackson 251st and George Atkinson III 277th.
Our NFL Nation team played a game of virtual GM this week, with beat writers covering all 32 pro teams participating in a group mock first-round of Thursday's NFL draft. As has been the case with most mock drafts around this time of the year, two former Notre Dame players heard their names called, though the teams may come as a bit of a surprise.

16. DALLAS COWBOYS: ZACK MARTIN

ANALYSIS: Maybe the Cowboys should have traded up to No. 13 with St. Louis, which I contemplated, but the Steelers snuck in and took [Anthony] Barr. A jarring move for Jerry Jones, who thought he had his right defensive end. Now I move on to the best player available despite the need for defensive help. The pick is Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin. He would be the third lineman picked in the first round in the past four years, joining Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick. (Todd Archer)

25. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: LOUIS NIX

ANALYSIS: The Chargers gave up 4.59 rushing yards per carry last season, No. 27 in the NFL. Nix fills an obvious need up front, reuniting with former Fighting Irish teammate Manti Te'o. His presence in the middle should help keep Te'o and fellow inside linebacker Donald Butler clean. (Eric D. Williams)


The prospect of Nix and Te'o playing together again has to be one that makes Irish fans smile. It's worth remembering that, in the lead-up to the 2012 Heisman Trophy ceremony, Te'o said he would have voted for Nix. Te'o, of course, finished second that year to Johnny Manziel, though Nix had a breakout campaign that was capped by a stellar individual performance in the BCS title game loss to Alabama.
No Notre Dame players will be at Radio City Music Hall for this weekend's NFL draft. No matter. The event could end up being one of the biggest pro showcases the Irish have ever been a part of.

There is a chance, albeit an outside one, that Notre Dame could hear 12 of its former players' names called in New York. If that happens, it would mark the Irish's biggest draft haul in 64 years, since the program had 13 former players taken in the 1950 draft. Notre Dame's two biggest drafts came several years before that, as it had 16 former players taken in the 1946 draft and 15 taken one year before that, in 1945.

Let's not forget that Danny Spond was in position to play himself into a draft pick before retiring last summer, which would have swelled the Irish's potential picks this weekend to 13. (Note: This number does not include transfer Aaron Lynch, an early entrant from USF.) The fact that a dozen former Irish players have a chance to be drafted is an obvious testament to the strides made in the Brian Kelly era.

Of course, it can be argued that only three of the Irish's 12 draft hopefuls -- Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas and George Atkinson III -- were true Kelly recruits, but as our friend Scott Janssen over at uhnd.com recently noted, the Irish's draft success under Kelly is more than just a coincidence.
If Notre Dame’s ability to develop NFL talent is connected to its long-term success, one look at Notre Dame’s draft history since the last national championship in 1988 clearly highlights why the Fighting Irish have been largely mediocre during the years after Lou Holtz’s departure and before Kelly’s arrival.

Notre Dame’s ability to produce elite, first-round NFL talent has been nearly non-existent since Lou Holtz’s departure in 1997. Bob Davie and Charlie Weis each oversaw five different draft classes and were only able to produce one first round draft selection. Tyrone Willingham, who oversaw two fewer NFL draft classes while head coach at Notre Dame, managed to produce one first round draft choice in center Jeff Faine, making Willingham’s production of first round selections slightly better than that of either Weis or Davie.

At this stage of the spring, Zack Martin is a virtual lock to be taken in the first round. Louis Nix and Tuitt could be as well. All three getting drafted Thursday would give Kelly six first round picks at Notre Dame, doubled the combined total of Willingham, Weis and Davie.

Looks like the pots of gold could be getting a bit heavier for high schoolers thinking about the Irish.

Irish lunch links

May, 1, 2014
May 1
12:00
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Time to jump on the Rangers bandwagon, obviously.
Consistency has been the definition of Chris Watt's career. He started 34 straight games in his final three seasons at Notre Dame. Alongside tackle and roommate Zack Martin, Watt helped form a left side that became the anchor of the Irish's stout offensive line the past three seasons.

[+] EnlargeChris Watt
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesChris Watt hopes to hear his name called at the NFL draft as early as the second day.
Perhaps it's the nature of the job, or the seemingly never-ending ascent of his buddy Martin's stock. But Watt quietly has flown under the radar these past four months. With the NFL draft just more than a week away, Watt could hear his name called as early as the third round.

Only then will the left guard allow himself to exhale and enjoy the feeling of a dream realized.

"I think the biggest thing is just stay patient and avoid the noise," Watt said. "The biggest thing to do right now is just really concentrate on yourself. When it's all said and done, it's really how you perform when you go to training camp, so all you really can control is getting better at this point. Don't worry about the things that are out of your control."

Watt, who suffered a PCL tear and an MCL sprain in his right knee late in his final season with the Irish, flew to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., following the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, which he did not play in. He went to work there with Martin and Stephon Tuitt, preparing for February's NFL scouting combine, where he was only able to bench-press because of his lingering injuries. He did 29 reps.

The 6-foot-3, 310-pound Watt said he felt close to 100 percent right before last month's pro day at Notre Dame, where he did everything but the bench press. He had a three-cone drill time of 7.6 seconds and a vertical leap of 28.5 inches. (Each number would have ranked tied for 11th and tied for 12th, respectively, among offensive linemen at the combine.)

Watt has stayed in South Bend, Ind., since, and he said he has relied heavily on Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand throughout this process, as the assistant's five years of experience with the Chicago Bears has given him plenty of information to share.

Watt was one of about a half-dozen offensive linemen to work out with Bears line coach Pat Meyer two weeks ago at Halas Hall during the franchise's local pro day — a treat for a Glen Ellyn, Ill., native who grew up attending the club's training camp back when it was held in Platteville, Wis., more than a decade ago.

Watt has found himself snapping for teams on visits, and he is open to a switch to center if deemed necessary. It won't affect the way he approaches the game, however.

"The biggest thing is that I understand how to block, especially in our system. I understand everything it takes and some of the changes you have to make," Watt said. "I'm a smart player that's going to go out there and really just play through the end of the whistle at all times, and that's just kind of the attitude I've carried since I've been playing in high school, so I'm never really going to change the way I approach the game."

Irish lunch links

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
12:00
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Not-so-ridiculous-prediction: The Bulls stay alive tonight.
Tommy Rees has had no shortage of familiar surroundings these past couple of weeks. The former Notre Dame quarterback is with several of his Irish teammates back in South Bend, Ind., as they make their final preparations for next week's NFL draft, and he was one of a handful of prospects invited to the Chicago Bears' local pro day.

Rees father, Bill, worked for the franchise more than a decade ago, one of many stops in a college and pro scouting career that has taken him across the country. The younger Rees enjoyed his time working with head coach Marc Trestman and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh, and the trip to Halas Hall certainly evoked old memories.

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesTommy Rees' high-profile career playing for Brian Kelly at Notre Dame could help his chances of reaching an NFL camp.
"[When] my dad was working there, I would go over to the facility all the time, so it was cool to be back," Rees told ESPN.com. "There were a lot of guys that I remember, guys on staff, it was good to see. It was a cool experience for me to go there so many years later and be able to work out."

The training hasn't been all that different back at Notre Dame. Rees has been working with new Irish quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, whose recent experience with the Washington Redskins has proved to be beneficial for Rees as he tries to reach the pro level.

"It's been great, he's really a great coach and a cool guy to work with," Rees said. "He's younger, so there's a connection there right away, and he's been in the league the last couple of years, so he's been able to watch film and talk about mistakes. And just putting me through some of the drills and some of the footwork stuff has gone a long way to help with my progression."

Also going a long way was the performance that Rees was able to put on last month at Notre Dame's pro day. The 6-foot-1.5, 210-pound signal-caller pushed a combine snub aside and completed 32 of 34 passes, with one of the incomplete throws being dropped.

Rees is hoping that the showing in front of the 59 NFL personnel men in attendance helped answer some questions about his ability after a four-year college career that featured just about every high and low imaginable.

"I was really happy with how pro day went, and followed that up with some good throwing sessions similar to that," Rees said. "And I just wanted to go out and show I could make all the throws and [that] my footwork was where it needed to be, and I felt like I did that, and I got a lot of positive feedback from it."

Little has surprised Rees these last four months, something that can likely be attributed to his background. While having a parent in the business (Bill now works for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) carries its advantages, Rees is appreciative of his father not being overbearing during pre-draft process.

"My dad's been pretty good about trying to let it be my thing, and obviously he knows a lot about it and when he needs to say something he speaks up and helps out," Rees said. "But when I made the decision to try to [pursue the NFL], it was my decision. I'd be meeting with my agent. It was going to be our deal. And my dad's done a really good job of trying to separate that, but it's been great hearing from him for help or words of advice. He's always been there."

There is a strong possibility that Rees goes undrafted, though his pedigree suggests he could be an ideal invite to an NFL camp, if not an eventual coach. It was a narrative that followed him throughout his Notre Dame career, and one that head coach Brian Kelly validated after Rees' finale: "He’ll keep trying to play the game as long as he can. But I told him he’s got a bright future as a graduate assistant for Brian Kelly any time.”

Rees will take in Night 1 of the draft at former roommate Zack Martin's place for the tackle's likely first-round selection before heading home, confident that he has held nothing back before his fate is decided.

"I think if you turn on tape you can see a lot of good things," Rees said. "But a lot of these intangibles: playing at Notre Dame, where you're on TV every week against the best competition, I did it for four years -- that wasn't by accident. I didn't play at Notre Dame by accident. And I think I'm the kind of guy who will go in there and just need to get better and that will only go in one direction, and I can definitely help a team with whatever they need."

Four former Notre Dame players are featured in Scouts Inc.'s Todd McShay's latest mock draft , which spans two rounds. Two of those former Fighting Irish stars are listed in the first round, with two more in the second.

Zack Martin continues to see his stock rise with the NFL draft less than a month away, as McShay slots the left tackle at No. 17 to the Baltimore Ravens, where McShay has him playing right tackle. Nose guard Louis Nix comes a dozen picks later, at No. 29 to the New England Patriots. McShay sees "Irish Chocolate" adding depth to the Patriots' front and says that Nix could prove to be a major steal this low if he returns to his pre-injury, 2012 form.

McShay has defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt falling to the Tennessee Titans at No. 42. And, in a mild surprise, the analyst has Troy Niklas getting picked 11 slots later at No. 53, citing the long-term potential of the man known in college as "Hercules."

This was the fourth version of McShay's mock. The draft takes place May 8-10.

Notre Dame pro day notes

March, 20, 2014
Mar 20
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Fourteen former Notre Dame players were back on campus Thursday for pro day, with many doing drills in front of executives from all 32 NFL teams and two head coaches, Mike Tomlin (Steelers) and Gus Bradley (Jaguars).

Here are a handful of notes from the event, courtesy of the Irish's sports information department:
  • Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox and Kona Schwenke were the only players to take part in every drill, with Tommy Rees and Chris Watt skipping only the bench press. TJ Jones, Zack Martin and Prince Shembo only did position drills, with Shembo working with both defensive linemen and linebackers.
  • Bennett Jackson, who ran a 4.51 40-yard dash at last month's NFL combine, improved that mark to 4.40 Thursday. The only cornerbacks to top that at the combine were Justin Gilbert (4.37, Oklahoma State), Phillip Gaines (4.38, Rice), Jason Verrett (4.38, TCU) and Bradley Roby (4.39, Ohio State).
  • Fox, who was not invited to the combine, ran a 4.59 40, which, among linebackers, would have trailed only Boston College's Kevin Pierre-Louis (4.51) and Florida State's Telvin Smith (4.52) at the combine.
  • Rees, who also was not invited to the combine, had a vertical leap of 31 inches, which would have topped fellow quarterbacks Tajh Boyd (30.5, Clemson), Jimmy Garoppolo (30.5, Eastern Illinois), Teddy Bridgewater (30, Louisville), Stephen Morris (30, Miami) and Jordan Lynch (29.5, Northern Illinois). Rees completed 32 of 34 passes Thursday.
  • Louis Nix improved his 40 time from 5.42 at the combine to 5.36 Thursday. He improved his three-cone drill time from 8.29 to 7.94.
  • Watt, whose PCL tear kept him from all but the bench at the combine, ran a 5.39 40 on Thursday, in addition to a 4.76 20-yard shuttle and 7.60 three-cone drill. He did a 28.5-inch vertical and 8-foot, 8-inch broad jump.
  • Schwenke, also not invited to the combine, ran 4.88 40, 4.59 20-yard shuttle, 7.16 three-cone drill, did 29 inches on the vertical leap, nine feet on the broad jump and 27 reps on the bench,
  • George Atkinson III improved his 20-yard shuttle from 4.46 at the combine to 4.38 Thursday.
  • Calabrese, another combine snub, ran a 4.86 40, 4.60 20-yard shuttle, 7.10 three-cone drill, did a 30-inch vertical, jumped 9-feet, 2-inches on the broad jump and did 25 reps on the bench.
Sixteen former Notre Dame players will take part in Thursday's NFL Pro Day at the Loftus Sports Center, the school announced Monday.

Though each's exact participation has yet to be determined, the names scheduled to be in attendance this week are George Atkinson III, Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, Mike Golic Jr., Bennett Jackson, TJ Jones, Zack Martin, Troy Niklas, Louis Nix III, Tommy Rees, Kona Schwenke, Prince Shembo, Nick Tausch, Stephon Tuitt, Robby Toma and Chris Watt.

Golic and Toma both finished their Irish careers during the 2012 season.

One player from that list who won't be participating in any drills is Tuitt, who told ESPN.com in a text message that he already completed such drills during his Feb. 28 pro day at Lovett (Ga.) High. Tuitt had surgery earlier this month to repair a stress fracture in his left foot that was discovered during the NFL scouting combine.

Testing and position-specific drills Thursday start around 11:45 a.m. ET.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The opening question to Christian Lombard, per protocol, was about which position he preferred playing, guard or tackle. The response, also per protocol, was that the redshirt senior is fine wherever his coaches choose to line him up.

But the biggest questions surrounding Notre Dame's fluid offensive line situation don't revolve around whether Lombard will be in the starting lineup. He will start, that much appears certain. And, if the first 30 minutes of the Fighting Irish's first spring practice are any indication, it might very well be at right guard for the second straight season.

A more pressing question comes on the left side, where Notre Dame replaces a pair of bedrocks in Zack Martin and Chris Watt, NFL-bound linemen who started 52 and 37 games, respectively. Ronnie Stanley and Steve Elmer took the first reps at left tackle and left guard, respectively, but filling the leadership void of the departed seniors is a task that will ultimately fall on Lombard.

"He was an example guy," Lombard said of Martin, a two-time captain. "He definitely talked, too, but he was the same guy in and out every single day. Consistency was his big deal. Guys would try and emulate what he would do, coming in with that professional attitude, like he's going to be at the next level. He was just a professional all the way around."

The soft-spoken Lombard sees a similar approach in himself, and it's one he'll have no choice but to take on given his seniority over Stanley (redshirt sophomore), Elmer (sophomore) and right tackle Mike McGlinchey (redshirt freshman).

Stanley occupied the spot next to Lombard last season before the latter missed the final six games after undergoing back surgery. Elmer was essentially all over the place in 2013, playing everything but center over the course of the season.

Meanwhile, the 6-foot-7», 300-pound McGlinchey has impressed behind the scenes after redshirting during his first season on campus, with Lombard quipping that the tackle's stamina is so impressive that "he could practice for 48 hours straight."

"He's a tough, physical kid," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said of McGlinchey. "Toughness, mental toughness, physical toughness. Long, athletic. He's got all the tools. He just needs experience and time, and he's fighting to get on the field. It's a very competitive situation. He's got all the tools necessary for him to be a starter for us.

"It's going to be time and place: When is that time, and when does he get that opportunity?"

Redshirt junior Matt Hegarty was the starting center Tuesday, filling in for injured classmate Nick Martin.

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