Nick Martin and Notre Dame offensive line looking for consistency

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Consistency is the magic word when Nick Martin talks about the Notre Dame offensive line.

The senior captain repeats it over and over as the solution to the issues plaguing the Irish front line. It’s the elixir for improvement that hasn’t coalesced over 12 games.

That’s why few positions will find more value in the extended practice time before the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30.

“Absolutely there's room to improve,” said Martin, who has found a home at left guard after moving from center early in the season. “The biggest thing is consistency. Watching the film from an offensive line perspective it's good play, good play, good play and then a not-so-good play. Consistency is really one of the biggest things in football you have to have. So we'll definitely build that up.”

The only way to find that consistency? On the practice field, Martin said.

“That's where it starts,” Martin said, “meeting room, practice. We just have to take it to the game field.”

The product on Saturdays hasn’t been good enough for Notre Dame. Following the regular season, the Irish ranked well into the lower half nationally in stats that reflect on offensive line play. Only 35 of the 125 FBS teams allowed more sacks per game than then 2.33 logged by Notre Dame. The Irish ranked tied at No. 79 with 6.33 tackles for loss allowed per game and No. 81 in rushing offense with 150.8 yards per game.

Progress appeared to be made with a shuffling of the unit early in the season, but it all seemed lost against USC. It became clear when sparsely-used redshirt freshman Mike McGlinchey was asked to replace fifth-year senior Christian Lombard at right tackle in the middle of the game. Maybe the Irish still hadn’t identified their best five-man unit.

“The biggest thing is consistency just across the board our five guys playing together,” Martin said. “You have half the offense up there up front and you have to play consistent."

But the problems aren’t just flaring up on game day. Martin didn’t bat away the idea that those issues are also seen in practices during the week. The camera catches mistakes no matter which day of the week it occurs.

"It's a carryover,” Martin said. “It's kind of cliché. You practice how you play and you play how you practice. But you do. You see the same things on film. And that's a good thing. They film literally everything you do so you don't miss anything."

Martin will personally face another level of scrutiny when he receives feedback from the NFL Draft Advisory Board. Irish head coach Brian Kelly said four players, including Martin, submitted paperwork to receive grades on their NFL readiness. It’s hard to blame Martin for being curious in the wake of the success his brother and former Irish teammate Zack Martin has had as a member of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line. The elder Martin has played so well he’s become a part of the conversation for Offensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl honors.

“I always knew the player he was,” Nick Martin said of his brother, “but it's really nice to see him be able to excel and do what he's doing.”

As for the younger Martin, the curiosity doesn’t reflect plans to leave Notre Dame.

“I'm just trying to see where I'm at with everything,” Martin said. “There's no doubt I'm coming back for my fifth year."

A win over LSU would help return Notre Dame to the trajectory it hoped for heading into 2015. A four-game losing streak derailed some of that optimism. A victory avoids a 7-6 season which would become the worst record in head coach Brian Kelly’s tenure at Notre Dame.

"That's something you look back on in the months leading into next season,” Martin said. “To be able to get the win would be a huge confidence booster."

But first there’s work to do. Most of it will be done before the Irish even head down to Nashville. Practicing with consistency in mind will trump specific adjustments for LSU.

“You get to get back to fundamentals,” Martin said. “You get back to the core of the game and basics of the game. You get to go against your defense, hit and play football.”

tjames@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame offensive lineman Nick Martin (72) in the first half during an NCAA football game against Arizona State, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, in Tempe, Arizona. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)