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Offseason cheat sheet: Offensive line

Aug 21, 2013, 4:19 PM EDT

Matt Cashore - US PRESSWIRE Matt Cashore - US PRESSWIRE

With offensive line coach Harry Hiestand entering his second season in South Bend, he’ll be welcoming in a new wave of talent, with five freshmen offensive linemen replenishing a depth chart that had gotten mighty thin. While most of that group won’t be ready to play any time soon, the starting five might be the best offensive line the Irish have had in well over a decade.

With two All-American caliber starters on the left side of the line and a third returning starter in Christian Lombard, the only thing that needs to be sorted out is who starts at the final remaining spot on the right side of the offensive line. After being forced to play as a true freshman, Ronnie Stanley looks like he has the inside track on that job, pushing Lombard inside to guard to let the 6-foot-6 sophomore man the tackle position.

That experiment might not last, with guys like Conor Hanratty and Steve Elmer having something to say in those proceedings. But with preparation for Temple already started, the best five look to be in line to start.


The Irish aren’t out of the woods yet from a depth chart perspective. While it won’t be as painful as it would’ve been last season, injuries to any of the starting five will take some significant reconfiguring.

Already this camp we’ve seen freshman Steve Elmer slide inside to left guard to fill-in for starter Chris Watt, who has missed a few practices. Hanratty’s training camp neck injury was also the impetus for kicking Lombard inside, allowing Stanley to get a running start at the tackle position.

For the first time in a long time, there seems to be some legitimate depth along the line. For too long, replacement level players have been a big step back for the Irish. That might still be the case at a few spots, but guys like Harrell and Hanratty are great gap-bridgers for the young freshman class, where Bivin, McGovern, McGlinchey and Montelus all join Elmer as having huge upsides.


LT — Zack Martin, Sr. #70
LG — Chris Watt, Sr. #66
C — Nick Martin, Jr. #72
RG — Christian Lombard, Sr. #74
RT — Ronnie Stanley, Soph. #78

OL — Hunter Bivin, Fr. #57
OL — Kevin Carr, Sr. #67
OL — Steve Elmer, Fr. #79
OL — Conor Hanratty, Jr. #65
OL — Mark Harrell, Soph. #75
OL — Matt Hegarty, Jr. #77
OL — Bruce Heggie, Sr. #51
OL — Scott Kingsley, Fr. #73
OL — Mike McGlinchey, Fr. #68
OL — Colin McGovern, Fr. #62
OL — John Montelus, Fr. #60


Expect the Irish offensive line to be more dominant this season than last, where they managed to average 200 yards of rushing and receiving during the regular season. Listening to the Irish coaching staff, they believe they have the top left tackle in college football in Zack Martin, which is saying something considering they scout elite prospects like Taylor Lewan each year. Chris Watt isn’t far behind, either.

While replacing a three-year starter in Braxston Cave at center isn’t an easy task, athletically Nick Martin is a better fit for what the Irish are trying to do up front and he’s seamlessly moved into the starting spot. If Stanley can get quickly up to speed, Lombard is already a better guard than Mike Golic was last season.

Last season, the Irish sometimes struggled in pass rush situations with Everett Golson, many times because the young quarterback wasn’t quite sure what he was seeing. Nobody is going to confuse Tommy Rees for a more elusive player than Golson, but the line will do a better job protecting Rees because everybody up front will be on the same page as the quarterback.

Even with a running back depth chart that’s uncertain, expect Notre Dame to take a step forward running the football this season as well. If everybody can stay healthy, there won’t be games where the ground attack lapses like last season.

  1. dickasman - Aug 21, 2013 at 4:24 PM

    I wanna see some man molesting horses out there this year! cmon guy we need to ride these horses this year as our horseman this year has been suspended for cheating.

  2. NotreDan - Aug 21, 2013 at 4:39 PM

    Ground and pound baby.

    Here come the Irish.

  3. upthera44 - Aug 21, 2013 at 5:55 PM

    It seems like a small step up for the line this year (although some unknowns) and probably a considerable step back in running back ability (Riddick and Wood were rather good), so likely a zero sum. But anyway, a lot of unknowns here. I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

    • NotreDan - Aug 21, 2013 at 6:39 PM

      you will be.

      If you remember, we struggled along a lot of the season last year with Wood and his inability to get the tough yards, and finally got some production out of Riddick late.

      This year’s RB squad will be better.

  4. Hakuna Budi - Aug 21, 2013 at 6:28 PM

    I hope Hiestand is the new Joe Moore; as a recruiter, teacher, and someone respected (perfectly loved/hated) by his players. As a former center, I love that Nick Martin has locked it up – he must be one hell of a wrestler. But 1) can they run right (unlike last year) and get Watt to actually pull on some plays, which would be awesome for ND and his draft stock, and 2) while Z Martin can cover righty Rees’s hindside, can they find an RT to cover Mr. Zaire’s? My guess is this year’s key is balance. Let’s do it. Go Irish!

    • onward2victory - Aug 21, 2013 at 8:07 PM

      RT for the next few years will be Stanley and/or Alex Bars. I’m good with that.

  5. scottatnd - Aug 21, 2013 at 7:02 PM

    @upthera44. Golic is gone = better offensive line.

  6. gtizzo - Aug 21, 2013 at 7:05 PM

    Keith I wish you would state “running back depth is uncertain but talented”. I’m not complaining just making a helpful suggestion. The only injury that would be huge deal and a national story would be if Zack Martin went down to injury. That happens and we have a problem. Outside of that I think the Irish would be young but wouldn’t be without talent. Add a guy like Niklas who is a huge tight end and hopeful doesn’t do a repeat of the Stanford game last season and good thinks are on the horizon. I would expect that the Irish should run the ball pretty well and take some pressure off Rees. Since it is likely that both Michigan teams will sport pretty solid secondaries.

  7. oldschoollyons - Aug 22, 2013 at 12:05 AM

    Keith, I couldn’t disagree more. Starting the season, ND will have four changes out of six positions on the offensive line. Three will be new starters (Martin, Stanley and Nicklas), and the fourth will be at a new position (Lombard). Historically, very few teams with that many changes on the offensive line have been successful running the ball — at least until later in the season. It likely will take time for those guys to get used to playing together as a unit. After all, even with all its stars, Miami didn’t win an NBA title the first year. It took time for the players to mesh.

    As for depth on the line, we have a little but not much. Hegarty is a capable backup at center, Hanratty can back up both guards, and Elmer will back up both tackles. The other second and third string players are not on that level — at least not yet.

    Add the changes at running back, and it is hard to see how we will have much of a running attack, at least at first.

    The snippets of film we have seen of practices so far bear that out. Sure, our first offense has tried to run on our first defense. That’s a tough job. However, the first team offense has had very little success running the ball. Atkinson, for his part, doesn’t look like a strong running back. Let’s hope the running game comes together at some point. It hasn’t yet.

    • irishdog80 - Aug 22, 2013 at 10:37 AM

      I disagree. We have an intact left side of the line with Martin and Watt and a future LT in the making in Stanley… 6’6″ with long arms and the feet of an elite basketball player… sliding over to RT because he is too talented to keep off of the field. The result is that Lombard can move inside to Guard… his natural position that he was recruited to play. Lombard was only playing RT since we did not have a better option… same for Golic at RG. Cave was solid at Center, but Nick Martin has a higher ceiling. We will be better on the offensive line and it doesn’t hurt that they get to go against our defensive line in practice.

      The question I have is whether or not Rees will be able to take full advantage of the time he will have in the pocket. Golson scrambled to create plays and passing lanes. Is Rees calm enough and big enough to stay in the pocket and make throws? I would like to believe that a 4th year Senior with plenty of experience will be better than he has been. The first couple of weeks will tell the tale… no reason for any turnovers from Rees against Temple and a big test against Michigan on the road. If we go 2-0 with two or less turnovers… look out!

      Go Irish! Beat Temple!

      • ndnapa - Aug 22, 2013 at 11:17 AM

        Good post. Only thing I question is that Golic was the best choice at RG last year, I think Nick was, even as a soph.

      • irishdog80 - Aug 22, 2013 at 11:36 AM

        I agree that we probably had better options than Golic at RG last year, but it was probably close and with Golic being a Senior and being a Golic… he deserved the shot and did a decent job. He was not “elite” like Lombard has the chance to be. At the heart of the matter is that college football is not pro football. Every year, you will have players leave the program and upperclassmen will be given first shot at a position over underclassmen. Just because you are replacing a couple of offensive linemen does not mean that you are taking a step back. For the Irish, this year, it is a step forward.

  8. irishpuma - Aug 22, 2013 at 2:09 AM

    nice posts gtiz and old school but watch out a good portion of the board does not want to hear logic or facts. Anything is possible look at last year, but I agree new line, bad QB, stuffed box and unproven and young backs is not a fool proof blueprint for success.

    That being said the talent level is getting where it needs to be but we might be a few years away.

    PS losing Hood is a big deal….225 pound back running in the 4.4’s that is bama style. maybe he changes his mind!!

  9. yogihilt - Aug 22, 2013 at 7:39 AM

    Don’t worry if the horse is blind, just load the wagon!

  10. seamus0317 - Aug 22, 2013 at 1:47 PM

    Lombard will be more than capable at either position on the right side. He is smart, a quick study and a tough kid. The only reason Golic played was because of his last name. He was not the best choice at RG last year!

  11. 4beav - Aug 22, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    I have no problems with most of these posts, but how about we lay off Golic. I think he did fine last year. He never blew anyone off the line, but neither was his name called out on penalties or missed assignments that led to sacks. And I doubt BK is considering the names of his players when he’s picking his starters. I’m pretty sure he’s more concerned with W’s. After all, how many times did his brother play?

    • irishdog80 - Aug 22, 2013 at 3:43 PM

      I believe Golic might have lead college football in jumping offsides last year. He had at least 3 offsides penalties against Stanford alone. Numbers played a bigger role in Golic playing than his name and I have acknowledged that he did a decent job overall. We also ran most of our running plays to the left side… officials tend to call penalties around the action not on the weakside.

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