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Offensive line taking shape

Aug 13, 2013, 6:44 PM EST

Offensive Line

Christian Lombard is a returning starter at right tackle, playing all thirteen games in a 12-1 season. But that hasn’t stopped him from embracing the reality that comes with improving personnel and elevated expectations. While the status quo wasn’t challenged during spring drills, one week into training camp, it’s obvious that Lombard understands that every job is up for grabs.

“The best five guys need to be out there,” Lombard told Pete Sampson at Irish Illustrated. “If I am, I am. If I’m not, I’m not.”

Right now, those five guys are starting to take shape. The left side of the offensive line is a given. Zack Martin may be one of college football’s most under-appreciated players, a four-year starter at left tackle and the three-time offensive lineman of the year for Notre Dame. Chris Watt has the physicality and ability to be a starting guard on Sundays.

From there, it gets interesting. While Matt Hegarty is battling with Nick Martin at center, Brian Kelly’s confidence in the younger Martin is really telling. Yesterday during his session with the local media, Kelly blanked when asked about two new starters, a brain freeze that came courtesy of his comfort level with Martin at center.

“I even look at Nick Martin, he doesn’t seem like a first-year starter,” Kelly said. “Just the way he handles himself, it just seems like he’s been in there for a couple years. It’s very impressive.”

From there, it comes down to two jobs, the right guard and right tackle position. And with Conor Hanratty out for much of the last week at guard, the coaching staff has gotten an extended look at Ronnie Stanley playing right tackle, necessitating Lombard to kick inside to guard. It’s the type of training camp tweak that sometimes turns into career changers — consider what happened to Dan Wenger that allowed Braxston Cave to step in at center a few years ago.

Of course, the fact that the Irish have the option to move a thirteen game starter from tackle to guard and fill that position with a guy that’s already seen the field (or in Hanratty’s case, play as a third year guy in the system) says something about the depth being built. It also speaks to the versatility of Lombard and the athleticism of Stanley, who looks like a guy that might have some positional flexibility as well.

This is the final season where the Irish should have to mix and match along the line. While there will be pains associated to losing Martin and Watt as the anchors of the left side, two blue-chip recruiting classes should infuse new blood that hold multiple promising players. Until then, we’ll have to watch as the final pieces of the Weis era — Martin and Watt — anchor a unit that’s poised for a big season.

  1. irishinmich - Aug 13, 2013 at 7:08 PM

    Taking shape indeed. The days of “baptism by fire” to determine the O-line seem to be a thing of the past. The depth being developed by Kelly & Co is pretty impressive.

  2. goirishgo - Aug 13, 2013 at 8:41 PM

    How quickly the o-line jells is the issue of the season from my POV. Inexperience or lack of consistency at virtually every skill position will put pressure on the line to come together quickly. I still think it may take a month or so for the offense to find it’s identity and start clicking. On the other hand, the Irish should be in every game anyway with what is shaping up to be a absolute stud defense.

    That said, I’ll take a 6-3 win over UM any day! Go Irish!

    • dutch31 - Aug 13, 2013 at 9:04 PM

      Don’t feel they are inexperienced at skill positions. Both starting outside receivers return and they look bigger stronger and faster. They return a TE who played at least 50 % of the snaps. QB has started over 20 games and played in 30. At RB, Riddick was a converted slot receiver, so this year ND goes in with many more options and much more talent. Then you have slot receiver, I will go out on a limb and say they can replace Toma.

      Go Irish!!!!

  3. fnc111 - Aug 13, 2013 at 9:18 PM

    Does Tommy have more turnovers than games played at this point?

    • dutch31 - Aug 13, 2013 at 9:24 PM

      Not sure but turnovers doesn’t mean he is inexperienced. Shouldn’t you be writing an apology to Tony Alford.

      Go Irish

      • tburke9601 - Aug 14, 2013 at 12:48 PM

        My sympathy’s to the Alford family, and I’m sorry to make light of the situation, but first thing that popped into my mind after hearing the news was “does TA really have a brother or is he trying to get sympathy to become OL coach of the year?” I figured i would post it before any of the troll’s hit us with it.

      • ibleedirish - Aug 14, 2013 at 3:29 PM

        Well, he isnt the OL coach, so…..probably not. Not even close to funny.

    • nudeman - Aug 13, 2013 at 9:45 PM

      fnc
      If you had an ounce of self respect or humility you’d pen some sort of apology to Keith for being such an immature punk here

      • irishpuma - Aug 13, 2013 at 11:36 PM

        Tommy has more turnovers than games and more turnovers than td’s.

      • dickasman - Aug 14, 2013 at 12:46 PM

        Nude, I’m pretty sure that as much as everybody hates him, he must be a pessimistic die hard irish fan otherwise he wouldn’t be on here that much.

        He’s just different. You are democrat, We seem to readily accept gay people around here even though we are all supposed to be catholic. L Ron Hubbard has a place and following in this world, lets not stop at accepting gays, lets just accept everybody, why not?

      • dickasman - Aug 14, 2013 at 12:48 PM

        I hope tommy had a tommy John mike surgery in the offseason and let’s hope that his passes can cut through the mean nasty 1mph wind tunnel that is south bendover stadium.

    • 808raiderinparadise - Aug 14, 2013 at 5:41 PM

      fnc111

      You should only apoligize for your mother not swallowing you

  4. don74 - Aug 13, 2013 at 9:35 PM

    There have been many changes since Kelly took over but the O line may be the biggest. The guys are big, athletic and strong. It’s crazy to think that one of the freshman is 6’7″ and can move. Last year Stanley saw PT (yes there were injuries), and this year Elmer will see the field.

    Coach Harry is doing a great job. It’s going to be fun watching these guys this year.

    • dutch31 - Aug 13, 2013 at 9:59 PM

      I was excited about the O Line all off season Then I heard Zach Martin call Ronnie Stanley a “Freak”. Now I am really excited. You are right on give it up to O line and Strength coach!!

      Go Irish!!!!

  5. irishpuma - Aug 13, 2013 at 11:38 PM

    BK and crew are building Beasts under the Dome!!!!!

    Finally!!!!!!!

  6. 1historian - Aug 14, 2013 at 8:47 AM

    I think the optimum O line scenario is to build depth to a point that you bring in 4 new recruits every year and redshirt them. We are getting to that point. Same with the defense.

    Games are won and lost upfront – it’s always been that way, it always will be.

  7. runners00 - Aug 14, 2013 at 10:19 AM

    These guys are good. We’ll have a great season with a strong offensive line. I’m a bit worried about whether our defense can stand up again, but offensively, I think our line will move people and we’ll move the ball.

    Keith: it’s BS to continue to drag Charlie through the mud (w/ your last sentence about Martin and Watt being Weis recruits). It’s like saying that Urban Meyer’s 12-0 team was really a Tressel team because the vast majority of the kids on the team were Tressel recruits (or the 2008 Alabama team, which at one point was 12-0, was really Mike Shula’s team).

    Martin and Watt have been with Coach Kelly for three seasons. Like all the seniors, he’s shaped them. This kind of reporting — it’s so familiar. I mean, we went two or three years with everyone blaming Willingham for Weis’ woes. I’m pretty sure it was Weis.

    This is Kelly’s team. There may be higher-touted recruits on the way (or in the program) but recruits and second- or third-team athletes are where they are because they are inferior when compared to the starters.

    • bernhtp - Aug 14, 2013 at 12:28 PM

      I can’t possibly see why you believe that Keith is dragging Weis through the mud in his article. There is no blame there, but credit for Martin and Watt, while simultaneously acknowledging that depth and talent is rising with recent recruiting classes.

      Whatever problems Charlie has don’t come from Notre Dame or its fans. All Notre Dame does is continue to pay him (generously). Keith didn’t call his recruits a “pile of crap.” Only Charlie uses language like that.

      • 1historian - Aug 14, 2013 at 2:04 PM

        Let’s not forget that in the last NFL draft ND had 6 players drafter and 7 others were FAs. All, obviously were Weis recruits.

        Weis recruits that were coached up by Kelly & co.

  8. irishdog80 - Aug 14, 2013 at 1:31 PM

    Uh, it was Willingham’s fault that ND went 3-9 in Weis’s third year. All you have to do is look at Willingham’s last two recruiting classes… Weis tried to save the last one with a Herculean effort while getting ready for the Super Bowl. Willingham’s last two classes had a total of 4 offensive linemen and 4 defensive linemen in them plus only 34 players over a two year period. And even then, most of those classes were 3 and 2 star recruits with only a few 4 star recruits that either transfered or did not see the field while at ND. The result was a Junior and Senior class that was lagely devoid of talent and few 5th year players since their class was forced into action early on. Weis was not perfect by any means, but he did begin the turnaround from the Willingham years. Willingham got to realize his dream at Washington by finishing his years there with his idea of a “perfect” season… 0-12. Sadly, he had ND headed in the same direction or worse. I am still waiting for John Saunders at ESPN and others to apologize to Notre Dame for raking ND over the coals for firing Willingham.

    • runners00 - Aug 14, 2013 at 11:16 PM

      Weis’s teams were 3-9 because Weis coached them. He was a lousy coach. Willingham was a lousy coach, too. Heck, Davie wasn’t much a of a coach, either. There is a lot more to coaching than recruiting. Weis had some great recruits. We also lost to Connecticut, Syracuse and some other crappy teams along the way.

      To your point, though, Willingham needed to go.

    • wisner74 - Aug 15, 2013 at 12:37 AM

      Irishdog – No argument that Willingham was a lousy coach and a horrible and disinterested recruiter, but I agree with Runners — Weis coached them to a 3-9 season. I’ve always thought of that year as Weis committing coaching malpractice. Remember the big shell game about who was going to be starting QB for the opener against GaTech? All he managed to do was blow an entire pre-season by confusing his team and not having them ready for the season. His starter – I forget his name, the kid was from Chicago – played one half and got yanked, and two weeks later he leaves for Cincinnati because he felt Weis had lied to him.

      No doubt that there was not a lot of talent in the upper classes thanks to TW, but either Ara or Lou would have coached that team to a winning record at least. Weis did not know how to coach college kids. Probably still doesn’t.

      • irishdog80 - Aug 15, 2013 at 9:55 AM

        As I noted in my original comment… “Weis was not perfect by any means”… that said, TW had one solid recruiting year and that was it. The class with Brady Quinn, Zbikowski, The Shark and others performed well under Weis. During the 3-9 year, Weis had zero TW upper classmen to depend upon. No upperclassmen leadership or quality talent whatsoever… the Quinn class had graduated. Could Weis have done a better job of developing the limited talent from Willingham’s two final classes? Absolutely. Did the team lack speed, offensive and defensive line talent and depth across the board due to Willingham abysmal recruiting? Unquestionably. Weis did suffer from a pro point of view when it came to coaching and failed to develop the talent he had to its fullest extent… on the defensive side of the ball. He did alright with offensive skill players. Coaching is more than recruiting, but it makes it a lot easier if you have solid talent to work with instead of players that are just lucky and happy to be there. A fired up Connecticut or Syracuse team could beat an ND team with mediocre talent.

    • 1historian - Aug 15, 2013 at 5:04 PM

      I read somewhere that ND fired Willingham because Urban Meyer, who was the HOT up-and-coming coach had previously been an assistant at ND and was known to have a clause in his contract with Utah that if he took the HC job @ ND he wouldn’t have to pay a buyout to Utah. ND figured they could grab him and maybe even lowball him so they fired Willingham, figuring they could get Meyer.

      Whereupon Meyer (this is Feb. 2005) took a look at the ND roster, saw 2007 coming, and signed with Florida.

  9. irishdog80 - Aug 14, 2013 at 1:35 PM

    On a more positive note, this year’s line is looking great and they will only get better from having to go against our beastly d-line in practice every week. Mike Golic was a good soldier and fine representative of ND, but the line will be a lot better with Christian Lombard at guard and Stanley at tackle. I also have to believe that the Martin “genes” will serve us well at Center with a more athletic player flanked by two road graders at guard. I am looking forward to seeing the offense in action against Temple.

    Go Irish!

    • 1historian - Aug 14, 2013 at 2:06 PM

      I would venture that Temple doesn’t share your enthusiasm.

  10. ndfightingirishfan - Aug 14, 2013 at 4:26 PM

    Offensive line should be and better be strong. Irish need to control the game with a consistent ground game and keep a clean pocket for Rees who as we all know doesn’t have great mobility. Looking forward to the start of the season!!!

    Go Irish!

  11. 1historian - Aug 15, 2013 at 5:05 PM

    I count 13 guys in the picture. 5 starters, 5 backups, 3 redshirts.

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