Notre Dame's Martin keeping doubters at arm’s length

South Bend Tribune

Those close to Zack Martin, the ones bewildered by his omission on the various All-America teams, saw this coming.

Even when his official measurements Monday morning screamed red flag.

The former Notre Dame offensive tackle, with his 32¼-inch arms, spent the next 72 hoursdispelling the value of hard-and-fast metrics, when it comes to determining what an NFL left tackle should look like, during padded workouts for Saturday’s Senior Bowl at Ladd-Pebbles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. (4 p.m., NFL Network).

The Senior Bowl remains the premier showcase for senior NFL Draft hopefuls, but the real proving ground is in the practices leading up to it. In fact, as the North and South teams tapered toward walk-through mode, it triggered the mass exodus Wednesday night of NFL coaches, scouts, general managers and personnel types, who had taken over the city.

Martin gave them all plenty to think about on their way home.

“It really hasn’t mattered who he’s been matched up against, he’s gotten the job done” said draft analyst Scott Wright of “Zack Martin has been one of the biggest — if not the biggest star — of the week. He came into the week as a fringe first-round prospect in most people’s eyes. Now, I don’t think it’s a question of whether he’s going to be a first-round pick. It’s a matter of how early he’s going to come off the board.”

The projection now is somewhere between 15 and 25 in the 32-pick first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, pushed back this year from its normal late April slotting to May 8-10. Martin’s rise puts him in the mix to be the first Irish player taken, along with early entries, nose guard Louis Nix and defensive end Stephon Tuitt.

If all three go in the first round, as expected, it will give the Irish six first-rounders in the last three drafts after producing just two total from 2000-2011 (center Jeff Faine in 2003 and quarterback Brady Quinn in 2007). The last time more than three ND players went in the first round was 1993 — Rick Mirer, Jerome Bettis, Tom Carter and Irv Smith.

“Martin, Nix and Tuitt all kind of have similar grades right now, so any of them could be the first off the board,” Wright said. “But there are as many landing spots, if not more, for Martin from No 15 to the end of the first round than for Nix or Tuitt, and that’s a pretty good situation to be in.”

What happens in the actual game Saturday and at the NFL Combine late next month in Indianapolis is less consequential, according to Wright, than what Martin accomplished Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, coupled with four seasons of impressive game tape from Notre Dame to back it up.

Stanford consensus All-American outside linebacker/defensive end Trent Murphy, who went head-to-head with Martin on Nov. 27 in Palo Alto and again this week, called Martin the best offensive lineman he’s ever gone against.

Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage — a former NFL coach, scout and executive — tweeted this week: “ND OL Zack Martin has the feet of a LT and the size/length of an OG. Can play either spot in #NFL, might be future All-Pro as OG. #versatile.”

And Martin could still end up a guard in the NFL, because of the size/arm thing.

He measured in at 6-foot-4Æ, 308 pounds. His 32¼-inch arm length is about ¾ of an inch short of what is considered the low end of acceptable for a tackle, per Wright.

“The arm length concern is mostly about leverage,” Wright said. “It’s about being able to lock onto defenders and control them. It’s a little bit more difficult with shorter arms. The thought too is with longer arms, if you keep them extended, you can keep defenders away from your body.

“But there are examples of guys with shorter arms who are very effective in the NFL. Justin Pugh (from Syracuse) had measurements at the Senior Bowl last year that were eerily similar to Martin’s. He went 19th overall to the Giants and had a better rookie season than either Eric Fisher or Luke Joeckel, who went No. 1 and No. 2 overall.

“You look at Michael Roos (Titans), a guy with shorter arms who’s been one of the best left tackles in the league for basically a decade now. It’s not a steadfast rule that you need 34-inch arms. It’s kind of like the situation with Russell Wilson and Drew Brees at quarterback. There are exceptions to the prototype, and I think what Martin’s done here is wash away the concerns that he’s not prototypical.’’

The four-year starter at Notre Dame and game MVP of the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 28 was part of an offensive line that surrendered the fewest sacks in a season (8) by an Irish unit since the Joe Moore-led 1989 line gave up seven.

And it’s not just his own play, but the way he made the others around him better. At the end of the season, the Irish were playing without three starters — guards Christian Lombard and Chris Watt and center Nick Martin, Zack’s younger brother.

Watt, in fact, was invited to the Senior Bowl, but had to scratch as he is still recovering from late-season knee injuries.

Martin, meanwhile, played big against big competition.

BYU’s Kyle Van Noy (BYU), Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun, USC’s Leonard Williams, Michigan’s Frank Clark, Stanford’s Trent Murphy, Rutgers’ Darius Hamilton and Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper combined for 101 tackles for loss and 47 sacks in 2013. Those seven players had a total of five tackles for loss and no sacks against Martin.

Martin even saw some action Nov. 9 against Pitt defensive lineman Aaron Donald — the nation’s top defensive player on the awards circuit. The Panthers moved Donald inside and outside against the Irish.

He finished with a season-low one assisted tackle in the 28-21 Panther victory. Against the other 12 teams on the Pitt schedule, Donald amassed 58 tackles, with 28.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks.

On Wednesday, the Senior Bowl coaches moved Martin inside to play guard, so he could go head-to-head with Donald, arguably the defensive standout of the Senior Bowl workouts to date. By most observers Martin had the advantage in that matchup.

“He never missteps. He’s always under control,” NFL Network analyst and NBC’s color commentator for ND football telecasts Mike Mayock told’s Mike Huguenin. "Worst-case scenario, you move him inside and he's an All-Pro guard."

Notre Dame's Zack Martin during the game between Notre Dame and Michigan State on Saturday, September 21, 2013, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)