Offensive Line

Offensive line taking shape


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.

Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.




Days before facing Notre Dame, USC coach Steve Sarkisian to take leave of absence


When Notre Dame takes on rival USC on Saturday, they’ll be facing a Trojans team without a head coach. USC athletic director Pat Haden announced today that effective immediately, head coach Steve Sarkisian will be taking an indefinite leave of absence. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will be interim head coach.

While the details are still coming into focus, multiple reports point to another incident with alcohol. Haden himself said that he made the decision after speaking with Sarkisian.

“I called Steve and talked to him. It was very clear to me that he is not healthy. I asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence,” Haden said, according to multiple Los Angeles media reports.

Sarkisian’s decision-making and alcohol use came into the spotlight this August when the head coach made inappropriate statements at a large booster event. Sarkisian addressed the media after the incident, acknowledged mixing medication with alcohol, and vowed to seek help and not to make the same mistake again.

Today’s incident appears to be a relapse, and one that requires immediate attention. Helton ran the team’s practice today and steps back into an interim head coaching role, a job he handled after the Trojans fired Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron left after not being awarded the permanent job.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, I have been in this situation before,” Helton said. “Once again, I’m very fortunate to have a group of first-class kids that are extremely talented and want to do something special here.”

This is the second major sports persona to leave his season to seek treatment in recent weeks. New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia left the team to seek treatment for alcohol issues. The Trojans are coming off an upset loss to Washington on Thursday night, losing 17-12 as a 17-point favorite.