Blue and Gold Illustrated


Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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62 PRESEASON 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED IRISH IN THE PROS IRISH IN THE PROS BY TODD D. BURLAGE W hen informed last De- cember that he had been selected to his seventh Pro Bowl following his eighth NFL season, former Irish of- fensive lineman Zack Martin didn't really seem to care. "It's a goal every year," Martin deadpanned. "You gotta earn it every year." M a r t i n , wh o p l aye d a t Notre Dame from 2009-13, likely wouldn't even know it, but his dominating 2021 campaign also made him a first-team All-Pro for the fifth time. Martin committed only two penalties all of last season and finished top 10 among guards in both pass- and run-block rate, per Pro Football Focus. Heading into 2022-23, PFF rates Martin as the ninth- best player in the NFL. And, at "only" age 31, more honors and a future place in the NFL Hall of Fame await. GOOD COMPANY Martin is a lock for eventual Pro Foot- ball Hall of Fame enshrinement while two other former Irish on active NFL rosters will add to their own strong cases again this season. A study in forever young, veteran Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith is putting together one of the best NFL careers ever by a Notre Dame player. Now entering his 11th season — all with the Vikings — Smith in 2021 re- corded a career-high 114 tackles, with 3 sacks and 7 passes defended. He led all NFC safeties in voting for his sixth Pro Bowl election. A four-year, $64 million contract ex- tension signed before last season should keep him in Minnesota for his entire career. "To play as long as I have, and to con- tinue playing, it's not just an individual thing, it's a team thing," said Smith, who played at Notre Dame from 2008-11. "Being able to be a Viking for my career is the most important." In 10 seasons, Smith has posted 861 tackles and 29 interceptions in 145 games. Also on track for Hall of Fame consid- eration is perennial All-Pro Indianapo- lis Colts guard Quenton Nelson. A unanimous All-American as a Notre Dame senior in 2017, Nelson enters his fifth NFL season as the 11th-best player in the NFL, according to PFF. That's two spots below Martin and three behind Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady. Minor injuries slowed Nelson in 2021, but NFL executives and coaches still rated him as the league's best interior lineman, per an ESPN poll. Interestingly, Martin finished second in those best interior lineman rankings. Both Irish standouts gathered first- place votes. YOUTH BE SERVED When NFL training camps opened in late July, popular belief around the league was that no player was more ready for a second-year surge than Browns linebacker Jer- emiah Owusu-Koramoah. D e s p i te m i s s i n g t h re e games in 2021 because of injury and a bout with CO- VID-19, the former 2020 unanimous Irish All-Ameri- can still tallied 76 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles while making 10 starts over 14 games as a rookie. Already being called the " s tea l " o f t h e 2 02 1 d ra f t after falling to the second ro u n d , Ow u s u - Ko ra m oa h landed on PFF's All-Rookie Team after last season. Pre- sumably, he would've made a run for Defensive Rookie of the Year if not for the down time. A few hours southeast of Cleveland, former Irish All- American safety Kyle Hamil- ton is preparing for his rookie season with the Baltimore Ravens. And, it hasn't necessarily been a smooth start. First, on Aug. 2, Hamilton took some media heat for being flat-footed while getting beat by a rookie free agent wide receiver during a one-on-one coverage drill. The play gained so much attention, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh stepped in on Hamilton's behalf. "Someone gave the opinion that [Hamilton] is a limited guy who's got to play in the box because they saw him try to cover a guy who ran like a 10.4-[second] 100 meters," Harbaugh said. "We're not going to match him up against 10.4 100-meter guys." A day later, Hamilton limped off the field and left practice early after collid- ing with a teammate. Reports indicate the early exit from practice was heat and cramping related, and Hamilton re- turned to work the following day. A first-round choice and the 14th- overall draft pick in 2022, Hamilton is expected to be an important addition to an already talented group of Ravens safeties this season. ✦ In 2021, Martin earned first-team All-Pro honors for the fifth time in his career. PHOTO BY JAMES D. SMITH/COURTESY DALLAS COWBOYS Excellence And Durability Define NFL Veteran Zack Martin

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