Apr 17, 2013, 5:32 PM EDT
While the numbers along the offensive line have been a problem for Brian Kelly and the Irish offense, the personnel at the top hasn’t been. Last season, the offensive line was one of the best in recent memory — averaging over 200 yards both running and throwing the ball during the regular season. With veterans across the board — seniors Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Braxston Cave, and Mike Golic were joined by junior Christian Lombard — the Irish proved that experience in the program is a key piece towards developing a dominant attack up front.
However good the line play was, the depth chart didn’t provide enough flexibility. Notre Dame was handicapped during much of bowl prep, unable to go live with numbers and injuries making things too precarious. That lack of depth ultimately didn’t burn the Irish last season, but it did necessitate a full reload in the most recent recruiting class, with a five-man group being brought in to compete. While Steve Elmer is on campus and competing this weekend in the Blue-Gold game, it’s going to take some time before that group makes its mark on the field.
With starting jobs open after the departure of Cave and Golic, and a handful of candidates capable of filling the two open jobs, all eyes have been on Harry Hiestand and his troops as they look to find the best five-man combination available. The candidates are all young players that’ll be taking their first significant snaps for the Irish.
We’ll see on Saturday what the first team offensive line looks like. Right now, Nick Martin and Conor Hanratty are the two players likely to step into the starting lineup, with Martin playing center and Hanratty holding down the right guard job. But this spring has allowed Hiestand, Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin the opportunity to see what they have for depth, and the rotation is coming into form.
This from BK’s after-practice media session today, when asked about linemen that were capable of playing “winning football,” a key evaluation principle for Kelly and his staff:
“You’re talking about Stanley, you’re talking about Hegarty, you’re talking about Hanratty, and right on the fringe of talking about Elmer there, too,” Kelly said. “He’s going to need some more work. But he’s made some really good progress. Plus your five.”
Interesting to note in those comments is what the inclusion of Ronnie Stanley does to the conversation. If the talented rising sophomore can work his way onto the field — with his spring really hampered while recovering from elbow surgery — it allows the Irish to potentially slide Lombard inside to guard. That’d give the Irish a really formidable interior, help protect Nick Martin with two returning starters surrounding him, and give Stanley a chance to force his way into the line-up.
“I think what you’re going to see is Ronnie and Christian and Conor, and we’re going to have to let that thing continue to develop for us,” Kelly explained.
At this stage, depth and competition are good. That said, if you’re looking for an indication of how this likely shakes out, consider Kelly’s usual reliance on veteran players. Nobody thought Mike Golic was going to end up winning the job at right guard last year, but he did after an impressive spring and summer. While he hasn’t contributed yet, Hanratty has had an extra year in the program than Stanley, giving him first shot at a position that might not truly be up for grabs.
Either way, while there are plenty of variables heading into the Blue-Gold game, it appears that the depth chart is starting to sort itself out.
Aug 27, 2015, 8:48 PM EDT
Ishaq Williams’ college football career is over. Notre Dame’s exiled defensive end, who sat out last season as part of a two-semester suspension for his role in the “frozen five” academic dishonesty investigation, has lost his NCAA appeal for reinstatement. Brian Kelly shared the news on Thursday after practice
Aug 27, 2015, 8:25 PM EDT
The votes are in and Notre Dame’s football team will be captained by five players. Graduate students Matthias Farley, Nick Martin and Joe Schmidt will be joined by senior Sheldon Day and junior Jaylon Smith as the captains of the 2015 Irish.
Aug 27, 2015, 12:34 PM EDT
It appears that the Greg Bryant era at Notre Dame is over. The junior running back, who was declared academically ineligible to play for the Irish this fall, has enrolled at ASA Miami, a junior college with a new football program run by former Irish assistant Ernest Jones.
Aug 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
After two seasons of trying to find carries for a handful of emerging running backs, Notre Dame has the opposite problem: Trying to spread out a growing workload among a smaller, highly-differentiated position group.
Aug 26, 2015, 1:56 PM EDT
With the season right around the corner and preseason camp finished, it’s time to get our final preparations done before the games start counting and the journey begins. We spent the summer pumping out tens of thousands of words on Notre Dame’s evolving roster, so if you’re looking for 50 hours of easy reading, check out the Irish A-to-Z series.
Aug 26, 2015, 12:42 PM EDT
Have a final question before we have actual football to talk about? Today’s the day. Drop them below or on Twitter @KeithArnold.
Aug 25, 2015, 5:06 PM EDT
Notre Dame announced a number of enhancements to Notre Dame Stadium on Tuesday. Most notable among them, a video board that’ll go atop the south end zone.
Aug 25, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
Our final installment of the A-to-Z series is perhaps our most important one. Because Notre Dame’s fate is in the hands of quarterback Malik Zaire.
Aug 24, 2015, 2:18 PM EDT
With the injury to freshman cornerback Shaun Crawford, an unlikely candidate has emerged as the frontrunner for the No. 3 cornerback job: Devin Butler. The junior, who struggled mightily at times last season after he was forced into action, looked to have lost his grip on that spot this spring after strong work by sophomore Nick Watkins.
Aug 24, 2015, 12:27 PM EDT
No freshman will be tossed into the deep end quicker than kicker Justin Yoon. Essentially Notre Dame’s sole option to kick field goals in 2015, Brian Kelly and the Irish coaching staff are putting a ton of the shoulders of a true freshman, who’ll be asked to fix a three-point operation that went haywire down the stretch after the Irish’s all-time field goal leader Kyle Brindza lost his mojo.
Aug 23, 2015, 10:45 AM EDT
When Brandon Wimbush enrolled in school this summer, he became the latest blue-chip quarterback to join the Notre Dame football program with the burden of great expectations. The New Jersey state player of the year, Wimbush would be wise to forget about the prep accolades, instead focusing his efforts on learning the playbook, with the third-string quarterback closer to the field than you’d ideally want.
Aug 21, 2015, 12:12 PM EDT
Keith Gilmore’s move to Notre Dame reunites him with Brian VanGorder, two football lifers who have known each other since they shared a huddle as players. After a long coaching career, Gilmore also reunites with Brian Kelly, a coach he’s worked for at Grand Valley, Central Michigan, Cincinnati and now Notre Dame.
Aug 21, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Notre Dame landed another Indianapolis product when safety Mykelti Williams joined the Irish this summer, the freshman lending some much needed depth to the secondary. Hailing from Warren Central, the same program that brought Notre Dame Sheldon Day, Williams’ might not contribute as quickly as Day did, but he’ll have a chance to compete for a spot in the two deep behind Max Redfield at free safety.
Aug 20, 2015, 12:54 PM EDT
With Notre Dame’s running back depth chart down Greg Bryant, freshman Dexter Williams has a clear line to the football field this fall. While wide receiver Justin Brent has converted to the backfield and Tarean Folston returns as a starter, Williams and fellow freshman Josh Adams couldn’t ask for a more advantageous situation, especially with C.J. Prosise taking time to heal an ailing hip flexor.
Aug 20, 2015, 12:17 PM EDT
Don’t talk to KeiVarae Russell anymore about his suspension. He’s not all that interested. He discussed it with Sports Illustrated, he discussed it at the opening of training camp and he continued to answer questions about it on Media Day.
Aug 19, 2015, 10:13 PM EDT
Talented freshman cornerback Shaun Crawford tore his ACL at practice on Wednesday and is lost for the season. Brian Kelly made the announcement Wednesday night via the sports information department.
Aug 19, 2015, 1:49 PM EDT
As part of a talented group of freshman defensive backs, Ashton White has made his presence felt on campus quickly, joining Shaun Crawford and Nick Coleman in their attack on the depth chart. Another cornerback with good length and athleticism, White’s career begins as the freshman class looks to make an unlikely imprint on the 2105 season.
Aug 19, 2015, 4:03 AM EDT
It was the standard Media Day dog-and-pony show in South Bend on Tuesday, with national reporters descending on Notre Dame to pay proper respects to the Irish football program, all while likely wondering if this is indeed “the year.” And perhaps it’s because Brian Kelly already delivered a lengthy state of the union address to open camp—or more likely—because he’s already sick of talking about the enhanced expectations for his sixth team, Tuesday afternoon felt like a redundancy that coaches and players alike wanted to put in the rearview mirror.
Aug 18, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT
One of fall camp’s biggest surprises, tight end Nic Weishar has taken off his redshirt and is intent on making up for lost time. In a position battle that lacks a returning starter (or anybody with any significant experience), Weishar is making sure that the coaching staff sees him as a viable option to contribute, especially in the pass game.
Aug 18, 2015, 8:42 AM EDT
After a freshman season swimming in the proverbial deep end, cornerback Nick Watkins enters his sophomore season with a better understanding of Brian VanGorder’s defense. And he better. Because with KeiVarae Russell and Cole Luke in front of him, Watkins’ path to the field is just as tough as it was in 2014.