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February 10, 2012

Martin heads offensive makeover


Chuck Martin doesn’t see a problem with Brian Kelly’s offense.

Notre Dame’s new coordinator simply sees an issue with how it’s been run, the biggest reason behind Kelly’s unconventional yet comfortable switch of Martin from coaching safeties to running the program’s offensive meeting room.

Notre Dame won’t have a single offensive assistant in a position identical to last season.

In other words, Kelly called for an offensive overhaul by calling on a familiar face.

“My seven-year old daughter could tell you we didn’t execute,” Martin said. “You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure that out.”

Martin started watching film of Notre Dame’s beleaguered offense after the Champs Sports Bowl, turning recruiting’s unavoidable airport layovers into film sessions. What he saw was an offense working against itself and one unable to hit homeruns in the passing game. The Irish had just two pass plays of 40-plus yards all season, one coming in garbage time at Stanford.

But most deadly to Notre Dame’s offense were the red zone turnovers that helped sink the season against South Florida, Michigan, USC and Florida State.

When it comes to picking a quarterback among Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel, a group Kelly said is comprised of “four quarterbacks that all can compete at the BCS level,” Martin will start by looking for the one who doesn’t make high school mistakes.

“To me, it’s who can make enough big plays for us to move the ball and score enough points to win football games, but then who also doesn’t put our team in a bad situation,” Martin said. “Which obviously too many times that's happened in the last two years. We put ourselves in a bad situation too often that we haven’t overcome and obviously it’s cost us opportunities to win games. It certainly didn’t help us in certain situations.

“We obviously have to clean that up. If we don’t clean that up, all the rest of the stuff is not going to make that much of a difference.”

Rough translation? The quarterback position gets too much credit for successes and too much blame for failures, just not by a lot in either direction.

Kelly doesn’t know how spring practice reps will be divided among his four quarterbacks, although Rees’ skills don’t seem to match an offense that wants an athlete in the shotgun and an arm to push the ball vertically.

Martin said he expects the passing game to progress downfield, even without Michael Floyd on the roster. Notre Dame’s returning receivers, assuming Theo Riddick remains at running back, totaled four touchdown receptions all last season.

“Can you replace Michael Floyd and his big physical presence and his size and his speed and his big play ability? No,” Martin said. “There’s not another guy that looks like Mike. Collectively I think we can be more productive on offense.”

“Yeah, we’re gonna do it without Floyd.”

Whatever direction Notre Dame’s offense goes, it’s hard to imagine Martin having the turnover tolerance of last season’s offensive staff. Only nine programs turned the ball over more than Notre Dame. Only five teams threw more interceptions.

“You should hand the ball to a ref at the end of every play. It’s simple,” Martin said. “It’s about mental toughness and concentration and discipline.

“Our biggest areas are we throw the ball to the guy on the other team. Not really that often, but probably at inopportune times. To me the other team should really never touch the football. I’m not really into interceptions, but I don’t think they should ever get their hands on the ball. If the other team is getting a hand on the football, we have some things we need to correct.

“That’s why you can always throw the ball to the guy that’s got that real expensive seat in the first row. He may not be super happy, but doesn’t cost us a football game.”



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