The local media had their first look at the ’13 Irish today, with Brian Kelly spending a solid chunk of time answering question from a group of reporters that were hungry after sitting out Camp Shiloh. With practice open to peering eyes, one place to keep a focus on is the right side of the offensive line, where Conor Hanratty, Ronnie Stanley and Christian Lombard all battle for playing time.
With Hanratty out with a minor neck strain today, Stanley stepping in at right tackle while Lombard kicked inside to guard all but confirmed a long assumed plan if Stanley was among the top five lineman for the Irish. But Kelly was quick to remind people that we’re less than a week into training camp, with plenty of evaluation to be done before Notre Dame lines up against Temple.
“That’s a fluid situation. We’re only four days into it,” Kelly said today after practice. “We’re a work in progress over there. It’s going to be one of those three guys, whatever that assortment may be. Lombard at guard and Stanley at tackle. Or Hanratty at guard and Lombard-Stanley at tackle.”
One thing that seems certain, is the left side of the offensive line. Kelly spoke openly about his fifth-year combination of Zack Martin and Chris Watt. If it’s possible for a Notre Dame player to be flying under the national radar, the Irish might have two guys that Kelly thinks are doing it.
“Zack (Martin) is the best offensive tackle in the country in my estimation,” Kelly said. “He’s the best offensive tackle because his athletic ability, his strength, his understanding of the position, what he does for his team, the way he teaches and leads.”
Kelly also raved about Watt’s ability to dominate a football game. The fifth-year guard who has showed remarkable durability during his time in South Bend gets it done in a different way.
“Chris is a different player,” Kelly said. “Chris is a much more straight line, physical, knock-you-in-the mouth kind of player. Zack can play that style. If you watched him against Alabama he played that way, but he can be a guy out in space and screens. They’re a great complements to each other. More than anything else they’re just really, really good football players. They’re two of the best offensive linemen in the country.”
Last season, opposing defenses knew that the Irish running game was severely left-handed with Martin and Watt a much better option that running behind two new starters in Mike Golic and Lombard. But there’s a belief this year that the offensive line will be even better and more balanced, hopefully allowing the ground game to flourish running both ways — something that’d allow Watt to become a dangerous pulling guard.
With Nick Martin anchoring the group as an athletic center, Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand believe the trio of Hanratty, Lombard and Stanley — however it shakes out — should be able to do more than just hold their own.