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Offensive line adapts amid flurry of changes

| Thursday, October 2, 2014

Irish senior guard and captain Nick Martin came into media availability about an hour after it was supposed to start. This is the typical scene Wednesday evenings after practice, as the offensive line is almost always the last unit to wrap up its drills, Martin said. The Irish offensive line has seen a complete overhaul already this season, and Martin said they need put in as much work as possible until they are completely satisfied with their progress.

“The offensive line, you have to [practice later],” Martin said. “There’s five of you; that’s almost half the offense. You really gotta be on the same page, so you gotta get that extra work in. We are out there as long as it takes.”

Martin said the changes have increased the workload that much more for the offensive line.

LineKevin Song / The Observer

“You’re only about three feet over, but it is an adjustment,” Martin said. “You just have got to take a lot of reps. It starts in practice everyday, and there’s a lot of film study. Coach [Harry Hiestand] does a great job with technique and you just have to carry it over [to the new position].”

After giving up four sacks to Purdue three weeks ago, the Irish rearranged their line. Four of the five starters would be playing different positions along the line against Syracuse, and a new center would be coming in, while Martin moved to left guard. Senior left guard Conor Hanratty would be the unfortunate odd man out, Irish coach Brian Kelly said.

“It’s not like Conor Hanratty has been replaced by a freshman, or he’s been phased out. He’s an important part of what we’re doing offensively,” Kelly said. “Very rarely do you go with five linemen the whole season. Connor is going to be called on to help us win this year, and although disappointed, he’s still committed, working hard in practice, and I’m sure you’re going to see more of him this year. … The guy that’s moved over there is Nick Martin, who arguably as a captain is our best player. “

Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand opted for a larger, more powerful line, with sophomore Steve Elmer moving from right tackle to right guard, switching with graduate student Christian Lombard. Martin, who was playing center, moved to left guard and senior Matt Hegarty came in to fill the void.

“[Hanratty] is a committed kid that we felt like has done a good job for us, but we were looking for some more size,” Kelly said.

The newly formed offensive line had its first test against a creative Syracuse defense, which blitzed regularly and had creative third-down schemes. The Irish put up 523 yards of total offense (161 rushing and 362 passing). Kelly said the group’s first performance was effective, but it still had more work to do.

“We felt like we moved the ball effectively last [Saturday] up and down the field, punted twice, and then had obviously great opportunities to score all night. Gave up one sack, which was really the quarterback not getting us in the right protection.

“By and large, a good first start from that group, did some good things. But it’s going to be a process for us. Look, we did it because we felt like it was an area that allowed us to grow, and so I think that what we saw in the first game together was that it validated the fact that this group will be able to grow together throughout the season.”

Martin said the chemistry of the line and “growing together,” as Kelly put it, comes from the offensive line’s closeness as a unit in all aspects of the game.

 “When you are moving around, it definitely takes a little time to get adjusted,” Martin said. “But I think everyone has a great relationship on the offensive line. I think that goes back to being close, always being with each other off the field too, not only on the field.”

Martin said the Stanford defense will be incredibly tough, but it will be a fun game which the line looks forward to.

“We approach every game the same, but obviously in the back of your mind you’re thinking this is going to be an extra tough game,” Martin said. “I love these games. It’s just fun. It’s fun football because they are not doing a bunch of stuff. It’s you, one-on-one, let’s grind it out and just hit each other.”

Despite the sudden change in the line, Martin said it is simply a part of football and improving the team as a whole.

“Anything is a possibility,” Martin said. “[The line] is definitely different, but you have to do what you have to do, and if the team needs you to move, you move, and you do it to the best of your ability.”

“It’s just one of those things … where you have to get the job done, but you have to get better each game, each practice,” Martin said. “You have to get better each time you step on the field.”

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