The initial pledge of Brian Kelly’s 2014 recruiting class, Greer Martini continued his path as a trendsetter last August when he was among the first players mentioned following the program’s opening practice of August Camp at Culver Military Academy.
Martini made good on that sound byte with a far more relevant first in September, becoming the first freshman to take the field as a collegian, working as the lone rookie on Notre Dame’s kickoff return team against Rice.
It was the first of many special teams appearances for Martini who forged the role of weekly starter on the squad’s “Run Teams” (kickoff/kick return; punt/punt return).
But while the first two months of his rookie season were spent running under and blocking beneath kicks, it was instead Martini’s contributions from scrimmage in November that raised the collective eyebrows of the coaching staff and Irish fans alike.
Martini enters 2015 in position to challenge for playing time at the Sam linebacker position – the only among three LB spots in which he didn’t earn a start last fall – while retaining his myriad tasks among the specialty units.
Cements his role as the primary No. 2 ‘backer at both Sam (strong side) and Will (weak) backing up James Onwualu at the former and thus earning extended rotation time in Onwualu’s stead when the Irish face run-heavy foes such as Virginia, Georgia Tech, Navy, Pittsburgh, Boston College, and Stanford.
Martini continues to make a weekly impact on special teams while staking his claim as a competitor for a larger role at linebacker entering Spring Ball 2016.
Opportunity for scrimmage time is mitigated by an Onwualu/Smith duo on the strong side and a multi-talented collection of inside ‘backer prospects that can serve both in the middle (Nyles Morgan, Joe Schmidt, Jarrett Grace) or on the weak side (Smith, Schmidt, perhaps Morgan) while Martini plies his practice trade elsewhere.
With five veteran ‘backers, plus early enrollee Te’Von Coney (worked at the Will spot in the spring) likewise in the mix, Martini’s role as a true sophomore is that of special teams starter only, with scrimmage time a rarity in competitive contests.
The addition of highly touted freshman linebacker prospect Josh Barajas could likewise limit Martini’s playing time from scrimmage as the season progresses.
Martini’s freshman-season statistics closely resemble those of the late Andre Jones, though the latter was more of a hybrid OLB/DE than true linebacker.
Martini posted 26 tackles (2 per game) including two for lost yardage, one of which was a sack. He appeared in every contest courtesy of special teams, starting two (Navy and USC). By comparison, Jones tallied 22 total stops (2 per game) while playing in all 11 outings as a special teams regular (155 appearances) and earning one start (Penn State).
A more apt career comparison might be to former captain Justin Goheen who as a freshman registered 18 tackles and made two starts (including one vs. USC), while serving as a regular on special teams (105 appearances). Goheen performed only in backup role as a true sophomore before earning a starting job at inside linebacker as a junior. He was named team captain as a senior.
Scout.com pegged Martini as a four-star prospect, the 31st-ranked outside linebacker in the nation for 2014. Consistent appearances in 13 regular season games with two starts at different linebacker positions suggests he’s well ahead of the pace expected as he enters Year 2, though it’s likewise true Martini hasn’t made much headway in the linebacker corps’ overall pecking order between pre-season 2014 and pre-season 2015.
Regardless, Martini is already a trusted competitor in the eyes of Kelly and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, one that made a potential game-saving play in front of 80,000 Irish fans last November, to boot.
Remembered most for a clutch third-down sack against Louisville with the Cardinals threatening to put last year’s Senior Day contest out of reach, Martini’s best overall effort occurred three games prior, a nine tackle outing against Navy in his first career start.
Among those nine stops were a trio that limited Midshipmen ball carriers to just three yards including one 3rd-and-3 stop after a yard’s gain by quarterback Keenan Reynolds to help turn back the Academy midway through a hotly contested fourth quarter.
Martini added a quarterback hurry on Reynolds earlier in the contest to force a Navy punt.
“Greer is maybe more suited for the core (defense), when you have a tight end in the box. He's a little more effective there with the long arms and the (bigger) body than James.” – VanGorder explaining how Martini can augment the efforts of the quicker but undersized James Onwualu on the strong side.