Surging Notre Dame LB Greer Martini defined by versatility

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Greer Martini has never been just one thing.

Not since he met Clint Alexander, at least. The head football coach at Woodberry Forest High School in Woodberry Forest, Va., first laid eyes on a 13-year-old Martini at a three-week athletics camp in summer 2008. As part of the camp, the kids played football, soccer, lacrosse, basketball, softball, floor hockey, golf and tennis.

The sport didn’t matter. The result was always the same.

“He was a standout in everything,” Alexander recalled. “And of course, when we did the football drills, I was so impressed with him. I went home and told my wife that night, ‘If he comes to Woodberry, he’ll be the best inside linebacker I’ve ever coached.’”

Of course, Martini did come to Woodberry. And, wouldn’t you know it, he turned into arguably the best inside linebacker Alexander ever coached.

But that wasn’t all he was. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound athletic chameleon also played shortstop on the baseball team and point guard — picture that — on the basketball team.

On fall Fridays, he was a middle linebacker. He was a weakside linebacker. He was a defensive end. He was a tight end.

When the situation called for it, he was a bona fide passer, too.

“His sophomore year, no one would kick to (high school and Notre Dame teammate C.J.) Prosise,” Alexander said. “What we did was put Greer opposite side, knowing they’d kick over there and let Greer catch it. He threw it all the way across the field to C.J., who ran it about 65 yards down the other sideline.

“Greer could do it. Everybody kicked it on the ground after that.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that Martini’s defining characteristic at Notre Dame has been his versatility. The 6-3, 240-pound junior is the only player on the roster who has learned all three linebacker positions, who can be inserted in any number of areas and instantly plug the leak.

“I call Greer ‘The Plumber,’” Notre Dame junior middle linebacker Nyles Morgan said with a grin. “You can stick Greer anywhere and he’ll do the job.”

This season, Martini’s job will be to succeed second round NFL Draft choice Jaylon Smith at the weakside linebacker position. The triple option specialist has surged onto the fast track for the starting job, ahead of sophomores Te’von Coney (who was arrested for possession of marijuana along with four other teammates this weekend and faces internal discipline from the team) and Asmar Bilal.

And while he (and just about everyone else) lacks Smith’s dynamic athleticism, Martini is confident he can contribute to the defense as a whole.

“You’re not going to have some of those amazing plays that Jaylon was making last year or Joe (Schmidt) his junior year,” Martini said. “I think that, overall, we’re going to be in the right spot and we’re going to make a lot of plays together. I think it’s going to be a better defense. I don’t think there’s going to be a weak spot at linebacker.”

Finally, it seems, Martini has found his role.

“He was a little concerned this spring when I talked to him because he felt like his curse is that he can do everything, so they were using him at all three spots and he was afraid he wasn’t going to get a chance to compete for one spot,” Alexander said. “I said, ‘Just do a great job. And if you’re the best guy, trust me, you’re going to get out there.’”

A few months later, Martini is out there, fully healed from the torn labrum he played with in last season’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State. The physical junior, who has made 51 tackles while starting six games in his first two seasons, also has experienced the mental progression necessary to flourish in a full-time role.

“In various defensive schemes, sometimes I didn’t know what was going on (in my freshman season),” Martini said. “It’s hard to be confident if you don’t know what’s going on. Now, a true understanding of the defense has allowed me to be more confident and make more plays.”

While he’s never been just one thing, Martini doesn’t have to do everything in Notre Dame’s defense this fall. He won’t be asked to throw any cross-field passes.

A few crushing tackles will do.

“We don't want him to be a jack of all trades and master of none,” Kelly said. “We've given him enough work at WILL that he can solidify that position first, which he has. And then that's when we started to move him around to MIKE a little bit and a little bit at SAM as well.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s Greer Martini (48) celebrates a big 3rd down stop during the first half of Notre Dame-Stanford NCAA football game on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, in Palo Alto, Calif. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN