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Spring Solutions: Offensive line

Mar 17, 2013, 10:24 PM EDT

Chris Watt,  Zack Martin

For an offensive line, nothing is tougher than breaking in a rookie quarterback. For the 2012 Irish, that meant finding an entirely new right side to work with Everett Golson, with Mike Golic playing guard and Christian Lombard taking over at right tackle.

The fact that the Irish o-line played well is a credit to the unit, especially considering they propped Golson up early. Even with an entirely new right side, the offensive line found a way to average 200 yards rushing and passing, answering any uncertainty that came Notre Dame’s way.

With Cave and Golic gone in 2013, there’s work to be done up front. Luckily for Notre Dame fans, left tackle Zack Martin is returning. He’ll be in line to win four straight lineman of the year competitions, a modern equivalent not all that easy to find. Next to him is left guard Chris Watt, who’ll help form a bullet-proof left side.

While Christian Lombard is returning, the Irish need to replace Braxston Cave and Mike Golic. Cave anchored the center position the past few seasons, a hard working power-player. Even with athletic deficiencies, he was one of the keys to the Irish roster. Meanwhile Golic also showed himself to a crucial member along the offensive front. Say what you want about the veteran many expected to ride the pines after spending much of his career on the bench, but Golic’s absence letf a significant hole in the line.

Let’s take a look at the depth chart up front and analyze where Notre Dame is heading into spring drills.

OFFENSIVE LINE DEPTH CHART

Zack Martin, Sr.
Chris Watt, Sr.
Matt Hegarty, Jr.
Nick Martin, Soph.
Christian Lombard, Jr.

Ronnie Stanley, Soph.
Conor Hanratty, Jr.
Bruce Heggie, Sr.
Mark Harrell, Soph.
Steve Elmer, Fresh.

SPRING OBJECTIVES:

Zack Martin: Put simply, it’s Martin’s job to dominate. Sure, he’ll never be a first round monster, the type of guy that drags scouts to the front row. But after three straight years of starting, Martin is one of Notre Dame’s most important returning players, and he’ll anchor left tackle.

Christian Lombard: After a gradual initiation up front, Lombard should be expected to hold his own along the offensive line. That means taking a step forward this spring, owning the right side of the line while a new guard transitions in, and making sure that he’s helping solidify an interior that needs to replace two starters. Lombard should be one of the few anchors along the fairly inexperienced right side of the line.

Matt Hegarty: After worrying that his career might be over, Hegarty’s opportunity to seize the starting job is a key position battle this season. The former blue-chip lineman has recovered from what was believed to be a stroke and he’s ready to challenge for Braxston Cave’s former job.

Hegarty is a top shelf talent. But he’ll need to show he’s able to slide into the battle up front and keep the battle competitive.

Nick Martin: Zack’s younger brother deserves the first shot at the starting job. He’ll never be the biggest and strongest up front, but Martin will go head-to-head with anybody that’s ready to do so. He’s ready to stake his claim as a starting guard, but also has the ability to play at center. He may¬† not have been capable of playing last season, but Martin’s season in the incubator was more than helpful.

Chris Watt: One of the benefits of being a multi-year starter on the Irish line is that Watt gets to silence some of the unanswered offseason questions up font. With Watt, the Irish are in steady hands, with the offensive line hosting one of the finer guards the Irish have seen in recent years.

Making sure the Irish have a solid gathering this far is important. But if the Irish need someone to take charge up front, there’s a great chance that Watt will fill in a fairly significant hole on the line.

Ronnie Stanley: An elbow injury that ended up saving Stanley’s eligibility will likely determine if the Nevada native is ready to chase a starting job. After an impressive debut season, Stanley needs the opportunity to show off his good side. A mammoth protector, he’ll add some top shelf youth to the rotation if he’s able to contribute.

Bruce Heggie: He’s certainly come a long way from being one of the last low-rated recruits on the roster. For Heggie, finding a place along the line was one of the rare plans that worked out. While he has drawn a long drawn cat calls, Heggie spent his months preparing for his shot to win a job up front. Whether or not he does it, one of Kelly’s first ever RKGs has done a nice job.

Steve Elmer: There’s few players that fit the part of an offensive tackle more than Elmer. While the Irish don’t seem to be aiming at pushing Elmer into the forefront now, he’s looking very much like the type of guy that’s ready to contribute immediately.

Mark Harrell: After redshirting as a freshman, Harrell is ready to compete for an inside job on the line. He’s likely not physically ready, but Harrell should bring another option to the interior of the line.

  1. yaketyyacc - Mar 18, 2013 at 7:24 AM

    surprised that there aren’t several comments on the basic foundation of any offense. as the offensive goes, so goes the offense. Offensive lines have made good quarterbacks look great and fair runners into Heisman hopefuls.
    so far Keith, you have been satisfied with the different segments of the offense. now, you hint that the offensive line may be the achilles heel of the offense. and if you know it, then surely the coaches do. we will tell by the spring game whether or not the offensive line has responded.
    good fair report. thanks

  2. 4horsemenrideagain - Mar 18, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    I’ve been reading chatter about Kiel reconsidering his decision to transfer and now staying on at least through the end of spring ball and the end of the academic semester. I’m not sure whether I am hopeful about this (provided that it is accurate) or whether it would be more of a distraction.

    • bernhtp - Mar 18, 2013 at 3:14 PM

      I can’t imagine Kelly allowing Kiel to practice with the team if he is strongly considering a transfer, especially now. If Kiel wants to stay, I would think that Kelly would demand a commitment, at least for this season.

      On the other side, if Kiel wants to transfer in time for fall practice in the early summer, he needs to find a college now and that requires time/effort. From either perspective, I don’t see how you can have it both ways.

      • irish4006 - Mar 18, 2013 at 6:36 PM

        I wouldn’t mind or be against Kiel practicing with the team (if I were Kelly), as long as it does not become a distraction. Regardless of whether he stays or leave, it is pretty much official that TR is #2, as long as Golson is healthy; there is not much into it there. If Kiel truly is reconsidering and unsure, this will be another time for the team an GK to find out where/if he fits with the team… if he decides to transfer after spring, we are not losing much in having him practice with the team. Another reason I found his decision to be so surprising.
        He could easily have participated in all the drills, make a case for himself, and then transfer if things didn’t work out. I felt the decision was ill advised (he was probably much closer to the starting role than it might seem on the surface), the timing of it even more so.

      • bernhtp - Mar 18, 2013 at 10:12 PM

        Kelly wants competitors, not quitters. If Kiel doesn’t solidly commit to compete, Kelly will wish him luck at his next destination. He wouldn’t want him around his team.

      • irish4006 - Mar 18, 2013 at 10:44 PM

        He is also a kid who may be having a second thought about a questionable decision. I don’t know what is really going on; from outside looking in, it just seems like a mistake on the kid’s part to quit (even when I am not looking at it from an ND fan point of view).

        I am, however, not suggesting that coaching staff should make compromises just to suit his will. If he is not happy with the situation for whatever reason, he has every right to seek happiness elsewhere. ND will be better off (regardless of the level of talent he has) without someone not fully committed to the program/process.

    • mtflsmitty - Mar 18, 2013 at 4:04 PM

      Would be good news if we could keep him. Chalk up his indecision to youthful indiscretion, or more likely, failing to consult with the brain trust here.

      Honest question 4horsemen…Where do you hear chat like you describe above?

  3. mtflsmitty - Mar 18, 2013 at 3:27 PM

    I always liked Golic. Love the fact he worked his arse off to earn the starting job in 2012. And what a compliment to his efforts to know analysts report there a big gap to fill where his smart-Alec self once battled.

    Cave will be missed as well. But I’m confident the quality development of very solid recruits from the ’11 and ’12 classes will do just fine. We filled two positions for the 2012 season as well, and everything worked out great.

    I believe in the process.

    GO IRISH.

  4. paiten34 - Mar 19, 2013 at 1:42 AM

    The O line has had some of the worse luck of any group other than the secondary of last season. The O line has had injuries to key players, death to a high racked recruit, transfers, defections and players who underperform. Anything and everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.

    Even with all that the group has played well the past two seasons. I just hope that this group we have now can hold down the fort, staying healthy and playing well the next two seasons. We need to let this very talented group of incoming freshman grow and learn for a season if not two.

    In my opinion a O line men aren’t players that are ready to play as freshman or sophomore. You want these young men to learn and grow before you throw them into games. Of all the position groups on a football team O line men are least ready to play early in college.

    As long as this coaching staff can continue to recruit the O line molding them into a unit that has the depth to allow young players to grow into a dominant unit ND will have continued success.

    I’m trying to get some information about the Kiel situation. My opinion is that the only way for him to play in 2013 is if he stays at ND. A transfer takes Kiel out of playing until he sits out a year for transferring. If he stays and plays well he might get a chance at playing time in 2013.

  5. 4horsemenrideagain - Mar 19, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    I saw this discussed on another ND football blog I frequent: Irish Eyes.

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