Maybe next month Greer Martini will have a better answer.
For now, Martini knows only slightly more about defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme than the media covering spring practice. Eight weeks of off-season workouts didn’t reveal much. Neither did those two practices before spring break.
Still, Martini has learned enough about Notre Dame’s new playbook to believe it’s an upgrade over Brian VanGorder’s system.
“We’ve just gone through the first couple installs and it’s different than anything I’ve run with VanGorder my first three years here. That’s a good thing,” Martini said. “But right now because it’s so fresh, it seems like a lot. But I think once we master it and keep growing into it, it will be less. It will be more playing with instincts.”
And for Martini, it should mean finally settling on one position.
The senior made his first start at middle linebacker as a freshman before shifting into an option specialist the past two seasons. He also got plenty of work in the Texas game in VanGorder’s 3-3-5 front that the Longhorns turned into an abandoned experiment.
Despite all that shifting, Martini still posted 55 tackles, seven tackles for loss and three sacks last season. His TFL total leads all returning players. Only Nyles Morgan, Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney return more tackles.
“The biggest difference is we’re not going to have so much substance,” Martini said. “It’s just gonna be lining up and playing with instincts.”
Doing it all from the Buck position – basically the Will linebacker spot under VanGorder – instead of moving all around Notre Dame’s front represents a change too. The senior won’t be asked to do a little bit over everything anymore.
“You know a lot of stuff but you don’t know anything really well,” Martini said. “It’s hard to play really fast if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.”
Presumably, Martini will know exactly what he’s doing in Elko’s scheme soon enough. Being a captain demands it. Morgan and Tranquill will flank him on defense in that capacity.
Kelly named seven captains last December – DeShone Kizer was the seventh but declared for the NFL Draft – to jump start the leadership on next year’s roster. It’s something the head coach has tried before with mixed results, installing Harrison Smith and Michael Floyd as captains in January after Kelly’s debut season.
Floyd was arrested two months later and Smith served as that roster’s sole captain.
Like that Smith-Floyd combination, the Irish probably have a couple first-round picks in Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson as captains this year. But in going deep to Martini, who started just four games last season, Kelly hopes to create a roster of leadership that the Irish lacked last year.
Martini said the six remaining captains meet weekly to talk about what the team needs and what it doesn’t moving forward.
“This off-season, the first eight weeks gave us a huge platform too lead,” Martini said. “It gives you the opportunity to pick someone up, get them going, tell them to touch the line. Fatigue makes cowards of us all.
“In that situation we can say, ‘Hey guys, let’s go in and do this the right way.’ I think that’s been huge for us. We’ve put in the time during those eight weeks so we feel like guy will respond to us.”