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Restocking: The offensive line

Feb 16, 2013, 2:05 PM EDT

Chris Watt,  Zack Martin

In landing five offensive linemen during this recruiting cycle, Notre Dame filled a critical need at a position group that had gotten way too thin. With Steve Elmer and Mike McGlinchey, the Irish have two intriguing candidates that have NFL potential at tackle. In John Montelus and Colin McGovern, Harry Hiestand has two true guard prospects that immediately infuse some size and physicality to the depth chart. And in Hunter Bivin, the offensive line has an intriguing athlete, and a guy that could play center — or just about anywhere else — depending on his development.

Filling holes up front was one of the most critical needs of the recruiting cycle, as the depth on the offensive line had gotten scarily thin. It’s worth taking a look back at the past few recruiting classes and see just how the situation was created.

Braxston Cave — Started three seasons at center.
Lane Clelland — Reserve offensive lineman, didn’t return for a fifth season.
Mike Golic — Fifth year player who started final season at right guard.

Alex Bullard — Transferred to Tennessee after death of his father. Part time starter for Vols.
Zack Martin — Four-year starter at left tackle of Irish.
Chris Watt — Three-year starter for Irish at guard.

Matt James — Blue-chip tackle died in spring break accident before enrolling at ND.
Tate Nichols — Plagued by injuries since arriving in South Bend. Career might be over.
Christian Lombard — First-year starter at right tackle in 2012.
Bruce Heggie — Recruited as a defensive end, Heggie is now a reserve center/guard.

Brad Carrico — One time DE, switched to OL before foot injury ended his career.
Conor Hanratty — Reserve guard will battle for open job in 2013.
Matt Hegarty — Medical issues appear to be cleared up, starting center candidate.
Nick Martin — Candidate for job at either center or right guard.
Jordan Prestwood — Florida State transfer left Notre Dame. Now at UCF.

Mark Harrell — Redshirted his freshman season.
Ronnie Stanley — Saw time at tackle before injuring his elbow.

Hunter Bivin
Steve Elmer
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
John Montelus

The turnover on the offensive line has been pretty staggering, to the point where Brian Kelly and company have to feel like they’ve been a little snake bit. The staff barely had a chance to see what Alex Bullard could do before he returned home to Tennessee. Matt James was the elite tackle prospect Notre Dame desperately before his spring break tragedy. The Irish thought they had another tackle until Taylor Decker flipped to Ohio State in the final days of the 2012 recruiting cycle.

Add to that the bad medical luck they’ve had with Carrico, Nichols and Hegarty, and the departure of Prestwood, and you begin to see just how badly the Irish needed to recruit the offensive line, regardless of projected position. People may have scoffed at low-rated recruits like Mike Golic and Bruce Heggie, but they were vital pieces of the depth chart this season, and Golic’s return was a necessity.

Way too early spring projection

What the Irish decide to do with the interior of their offensive line should be interesting. There’s no question Zack Martin is locked in at left tackle. Christian Lombard had a nice first season at right tackle as well, though he is a bit undersized.

But with Chris Watt by far the best interior lineman on the roster, do Kelly and Hiestand toy with moving Watt to the right side, helping to prop up a new center and Lombard, while Martin helps bring along a rookie guard? Can Ronnie Stanley win a tackle job, forcing Lombard inside? The Irish were incredibly left-handed last season running the football and they’ll continue to be that if some unestablished players don’t step up and seize and opportunity. But with three returning starters, the foundation is set for continued improvement along the line.



  1. dudeacow - Feb 16, 2013 at 2:53 PM

    Even though we’re losing Cave and Golic, I’m looking for improved play this season.

  2. yaketyyacc - Feb 16, 2013 at 3:42 PM

    it is a question mark, only because we are so far away from spring practice and the unnknowns, injury and transfer. yet, Coch kelly and staff have reruited well enough to be able tosay the offensive line will be an improvement, faster aqnd more agressive. they have put this on themselves by labeling their class “the Irish Mob”. And I for one trust them to live up to their moniker.

  3. nudeman - Feb 16, 2013 at 6:19 PM

    There is no single area that distinguishes BK from his predecessors more than understanding the importance of line play in building a championship caliber program

    Roll dam Tide

    Sweet tea and grits on me

    • rjshan - Feb 17, 2013 at 4:55 PM


  4. barneysbullet - Feb 16, 2013 at 6:58 PM

    Nude, you better watch out, ole Harv Updyke will figure out a way to reach you from his jail cell…the cell with all the ‘bama banners in it. 😉

    I’m excited to see what Kelly and Heistand are going to do with that o-line this year. Methinks will be better than ever.

    • nudeman - Feb 16, 2013 at 7:38 PM

      Yeah … well I bet ol’ Hahhv is too busy workin’ on a Haley Barbour fundraiser to notice lil’ ol’ me

      Roll dam Tide!!!

      • onlynd - Feb 16, 2013 at 9:26 PM

        er you mean… “pa-role dam Tide!!!…”

      • bernhtp - Feb 16, 2013 at 10:10 PM

        No, you mean Payroll dam Tide.

        Toxic bacterial slime creeps up on you in many ways.

  5. notredameirish1980 - Feb 16, 2013 at 7:05 PM

    This basically leaves them 3 deep in both the offensive and defensive lines with solid to exceptional athletes for the first time in I don’t remember when (14/15 OL and 9 DL). Keep it coming.

  6. gtizzo - Feb 16, 2013 at 11:47 PM

    Having both tackles is good. Something tells me Watt ends up getting a look work at center. Center would be the next most important position along the offensive once the tackle spots are filled. That would open up both guard spots. Looks like another year of 5 offensive linemen in a recruiting class would solve the depth problem. Last i looked the Irish had 1 for the 2014 class maybe a few more would be nice.

  7. fnc111 - Feb 17, 2013 at 5:02 AM

    Going to be a long season in 2013. At least we won’t need to worry about another beat down by Alabama. Ohio State will be the ones being embarrassed by Bama next time around. 8-4 would be a good year for ND.

    • notredameirish1980 - Feb 17, 2013 at 8:03 AM

      Yeah. 8 returning starters on defense and 6 returning starters on offense with a top notch recruiting class sure sets us up for failure. You must be Harvey’s roommate.

      • gtizzo - Feb 17, 2013 at 8:53 PM

        Not to mention the schedule really sets up nicely for ND.

  8. rdeal23 - Feb 17, 2013 at 9:37 AM

    Any replacement for golic should be an upgrade…bk is definitely is recruiting well to win the battle in the trenches. Go Irish!

    • nudeman - Feb 17, 2013 at 9:51 PM

      I don’t understand the ahot at Golic. From all accounts his improvement the last two years was dramatic. I don’t think he could in any way be considered an elite player but it seems to me he was decent and reliable in 2012.

      The other thing is everything I read about him is that he was a high character guy, respected by teammates and very active in the community. I’ll take guys like Golic all day.

      • dutch31 - Feb 17, 2013 at 11:37 PM

        I agree with Nude, thought Golic did a nice job. If Nick Martin had beaten him out in camp, can’t believe BK would have started Golic just because he was a 5th year

      • bernhtp - Feb 18, 2013 at 9:29 AM

        The Golic hate is very odd. He did have a few tough games, especially early in the season (e.g., against Purdue’s Short), but steadily progressed. He clearly put all of his heart, body and soul into being a better player and teammate. He beat out other talented players (Nick Martin) and became an integral part of a good offensive line that helped the team get to the NC game. He’s been a model student, doer of good, and ambassador for Notre Dame. While he may get a look for some NFL rosters, I suspect his future lies in the path of his dad, or maybe coaching.

  9. larrydavid7000 - Feb 17, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    Roll Tide.!!!!!!

  10. oleolehey - Feb 18, 2013 at 9:38 AM

    Around the bowl and down the hole! Role Tide Roll!

  11. ndnapa - Feb 18, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    This will be a very tricky call for Hiestand, Martin and Kelly. If they choose to move Watt and Lombard, they would have essentially 4 starters in new positions on a unit that thrives on continuity. If Watt stays at LG, you’ll have to replace the whole left side anyway in 2014.

    I think Nick Martin is a starter at OG, and I would plug him in at RG,and leave Watt and Lombard where they are. Let the 3-H crowd battle it out at Center_Hegarty, Harrell and Hanratty. Yes, I’d give Hanratty a look at C. I’d give stanley PT every chance I got because he’s starting at OT in 2014. We’ll probably have two sophomores starting in 2014, with Elmer and Montelus the leading candidates.

    Very tricky this year, though.

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