Rock Steady

5th-year offensive guard Chris Watt has elevated his game this season and since the arrival of second-year offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.

His longtime roommate and fellow offensive lineman Zack Martin is one of 18 players in the history of the program to twice serve as a team captain.

His other roommate, Tommy Rees, will likely exit the program winning more starts than legends Joe Theismann and Joe Montana. Even his third roommate Dan Fox, the most recent addition to the off-campus quartet, has made news of late, scoring a defensive touchdown to seal an Irish win in Cowboys Stadium.

At some point, someone should likely notice Chris Watt as well. The Glen Ellyn, Illinois product operates in anonymity, which as a three-year starting offensive lineman on the most scrutinized college football team in the nation probably indicates he's doing something right.

"Steady. Real steady play," said head coach Brian Kelly when asked to evaluate Watt this season. "I'm reminded sometimes of the fact that, when you have somebody like a Chris Watt that is not spectacular but is so steady. (For instance) Bill Tobin, longtime (general manager) in the NFL who's now with the (Cincinnati) Bengals (as a consultant) walks up to you and tells you how much he loves Chris Watt, about how consistent he is on a day-to-day basis.

"It kind of reminds you of what a great player you have. Sometimes you don't realize that because sometimes he's overshadowed by (Zack) Martin on the left side. He's been such a consistent player for us."

Watt's roommate is a three-time winner -- the only such honoree in program history -- of Notre Dame's Guardian of the Year aware. Last season, balloting wasn't necessary, it wasn't close.

"He's lapping the field," said Kelly of Martin's performance late in 2012. "He's that good on a consistent basis. I think coach (Hiestand) is grading him out in the 90s where guys are grading in the 60s and 70s."

That's no longer the case for Watt, who Kelly noted has played only one game this season, "under that threshold between 88 and 92 percent. He's been a high and consistent grade for us."

Watt however defers talk that this season is his best. He's more concerned with the whole.

"I would say so, but it's more that I'm trying to bring together the offensive line, doing a great job with that," he said of his focus. "It's different when you're a younger guy, but now having (center) Nick (Martin) next to me, I think communication is my biggest improvement."

Learned behavior for an offensive lineman to be sure, and something Watt's position coach continues to stress.

"Coach Hiestand was saying how we've done a better job over the last week just starting to communicate better on the line, as far as what we're doing, what we're seeing as a group," Watt said. "We're not there yet. We're not playing 5-for-5 on every play. Although that's hard to do, that's always the goal."

Unison ranks above merely doing one's job in Watt's domain.

"Improvement (will come) when we're all seeing the defense correctly," he offered. "When you're able to do that it might change the way you're stepping, change the way you're blocking a little better. There were some opportunities where we could have done that better vs. USC as well as some other games. Just being able to be on the same page would make plays better.

It would have helped assuage some angst in the House that Rockne Built vs. the Trojans as the offense sputtered under backup triggerman Andrew Hendrix.

"We probably should have done a better job of rallying around Hendrix when he comes in there, whether it's giving him more time in protection or just doing a better job with our protections, and then when we need yards everyone needs to be fired up to get them. Especially at the end of the game, that was one thing we were really upset about is we weren't able to get that first down to keep our defense off the field and end the game."

Ongoing and On Tap

Watt entered the season with a personal goal of improving his pass protection acumen. He and Hiestand felt that last fall, Watt too often gave group in his pass set. He was absorbing pass rushers rather than attacking.

"It's still something I need to improve on. I like where my set is, but as far as getting my hands up and punching, it's something I want to get going more and more," he admitted. "It's constant improvement."

But it's improvement his roommate and fellow left-sider Zack Martin has seen from Watt across the board.

"He's taken a step forward the last two years, when coach Hiestand came in, and I think that's the case for a lot of us too," said the elder Martin. "He's definitely stepped up and is playing very hard, competitive. He's become more of a complete offensive guard."

The next step is Saturday vs. an undersized defensive front that yields more than 220 rushing yards per game (and 267 through the air).

"I would say the goal is exert our will but it's not like Air Force is going to be sitting there and trying to take on blocks," said Watt. "They sort of slant at the snap. There might be a little pre-snap look from their linebacker, but it can be hard to tell.

"They try to be moving all the time and trying to get us off our combinations. The biggest thing for us this weekend is the O-Line being together and making sure we're not going one way too fast, because they're pretty slipper and they can get off blocks."

Appreciably fewer of Watt's foes have been successful to that end this fall.


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