Martini stirring Notre Dame defense on more regular basis

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Shedding blocks is tough enough. Along the way, Greer Martini also had to shed being typecast.

Long trumpeted as a lockdown linebacker when it comes to stopping option-oriented offenses, the Notre Dame senior has appreciated that compliment all the while longing for more playing time.

After all, the Irish only play option-based opponents two or three times per year.

”At times I felt like I was just used as a specialized player, whether that was against the option or not,” Martini said Wednesday, ”and I think that for me to show the coaches that I can be an every-down linebacker, I think is the proudest I’ve (been) in my career.”

Martini has shown his coaches enough to start all three games so far this season as the Irish (2-1) get ready to play at Michigan State (2-0) on Saturday night.

Although he and returning starter Te’von Coney, a junior, have been listed as co-No. 1s so far this season at Notre Dame’s ”buck” linebacker position, essentially the weak-side spot, each has seen enough action for each to rank among the team’s top three in tackles. Coney is first at 25 and Martini has 22.

Martini’s role also includes serving as one of the team captains.

Another captain, Drue Tranquill, called him Martini a ”rock” for his teammates and praised his playing ability.

”He’s almost as versatile as they come – fast, physical, can line him up at multiple spots, and he can get the job done,” Tranquill said. ”I mean, geez, he had, what, 10 tackles last week (in a 49-20 win at Boston College), played on three of the four specials teams, and is just making plays all over the field for us.”

The 6-foot-4, 236-pound Martini, has been doing it for a long time, too.

A former Virginia high school all-stater, Martini is one of just two players on the Irish roster, along with All-American offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, who has appeared in all 41 games over the last four years, including 13 starts.

”He just does exactly what we ask him to do and excels at it,” coach Brian Kelly said upon Martini winning the program’s coveted Next Man In award last winter. ”When we talk about next man in, I think it’s about, `What can I do for the team?’ and `I’ll be ready when you call on me,’ and that’s Greer Martini.”

Being ready for Michigan State occupies Martini’s mind this week. A year ago, the Spartans stormed to a 36-7 lead by late in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium before holding on for a 36-28 win.

”We have a point to prove,” Martini said. ”Obviously, we didn’t like the outcome last year.”

Michigan State piled up 501 yards, including 260 on the ground.

Through three games in 2016, Notre Dame was allowing 439 yards and 32 points per game. Through three games this season under new coordinator Mike Elko, the Irish are allowing 333 yards and 18.7 points.

”Just the understanding of the scheme each week,” Martini said of how the defense has improved. ”You kind of get better with it, just less missed assignments, better communication, the clarity of what we’re saying to each other. We’re all on the same page.”

Regarding future pages, Martini says he would ”love to continue my football career after here, but I’m a finance major. I don’t really know what I want to do yet, but I’ll figure it out.”

More AP college football: and