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Spring Solutions: Offensive line

Feb 17, 2014, 12:30 PM EST

Louis Nix, Steve Elmer

It may not feel like it, but spring isn’t too far away. For Notre Dame and Brian Kelly’s football team, spring practice is starting earlier than every, kicking off in early March.

The rationale for moving up the calendar isn’t 100 percent clear, but what is certain are the steps the Irish need to take to get back to the elite. As college football enters the playoff era, the 15 practices this spring will give the Irish their marching orders heading into summer workouts.

Needing to replace key starters on both sides of the ball, let’s take a look at the pre-spring practice depth chart, starting along the offensive line.

OFFENSIVE LINE DEPTH CHART

Nick Martin, Sr. — C*
Matt Hegarty, Sr. — C*
Christian Lombard, GS — G/T
Conor Hanratty, Sr. — G*
Mark Harrell, Jr. — G*
Hunter Bivin, Soph. — G/C*
Colin McGovern, Soph. — G*
John Montelus, Soph. — G*
Ronnie Stalney, Jr. — T*
Steve Elmer, Soph. — G/T
Mike McGlinchey, Soph. — T*

*Fifth-year of eligibility available. 

Harry Hiestand won’t know what to do with himself this spring. After having miniature groups the past few springs with the depth chart in poor shape, competition will be at a premium this spring, with the two-deep stocked with people competing for playing time.

The departure of Zack Martin and Chris Watt leave two gigantic holes in the offensive line, but there are plenty of candidates to fill the jobs. Let’s walk through the spring objectives for each lineman on the depth chart.

SPRING OBJECTIVES

Nick Martin: First and foremost is returning healthy after a knee injury ended Martin’s season early. Kelly gave good news on that front, calling Martin ahead of schedule during a press conference at the end of January. That doesn’t necessarily mean Martin will be taking live reps, and if he does that goes to show you how quickly he’s healed.

Then again, if he doesn’t, it’s a sign that the staff is comfortable letting him get through spring healthy. After a more than serviceable debut season in the starting lineup, the hope would be that Martin takes that leap forward in his second season at center.

Matt Hegarty: After battling some really serious health issues, Hegarty had to be one of the true surprises of the season, stepping into the lineup after Martin got hurt and holding his own against some really difficult competition. Hegarty played well against BYU, Stanford and Rutgers, facing off with some solid competition and showing himself fully recovered from a scary stroke he suffered.

Hegarty was a highly touted recruit. He’s got the size and athleticism the Irish staff targeted from the start. If he’s able to push Martin at center, there’s a chance he could play his way into a swing role at both guard and center, making himself a key reserve heading into the season.

Christian Lombard: Irish fans have all but forgotten about Lombard, the 2012 starting right tackle who shifted inside to play guard alongside Ronnie Stanley. But Lombard went down with a back injury early in the season, forcing Steve Elmer into the starting lineup. If healthy, Lombard is a key returning starter that could serve as an anchor on the interior.

The lone fifth-year player on the depth chart, Lombard has played a lot of football and has always been highly thought of by this staff. (Take a trip in the “Way Back Machine” and remember the Irish staff letting Matt Romine play out his eligibility elsewhere to allow Lombard to start at tackle.) Lombard’s a big body at guard who has the ability to play tackle as well.

Conor Hanratty: Hanratty was impressive last season, cutting into Elmer’s reps at guard before being forced into a more regular role when Chris Watt got injured. Now a senior, Hanratty’s urgency for a starting job will only be elevated. How things shake out on the interior of the offensive line should be interesting.

Expect Hanratty to stake a claim to a guard job, though what the staff does with Elmer remains to be seen. Depth like this is hardly a problem, but it certainly makes for a nice challenge. With redshirts coming off some other guys, the guard competition will be fierce.

Mark Harrell: After redshirting during 2012, Harrell didn’t see the field in 2013 either. From what we’ve heard from the coaching staff, Harrell’s got positional flexibility on the interior of the line, though he’ll be competing at a packed position with talented guys both younger and older than him. Getting on the map will be the first order of spring for Harrell.

Hunter Bivin: This will be our first look at Bivin, who was an emergency option down the stretch last season. A really athletic prospect who came into Notre Dame as a highly touted recruit, Bivin could play anywhere along the line, though might be Notre Dame’s next center after Martin and Hegarty move on.

Colin McGovern: McGovern wasn’t completely healthy last season, so spring will be a good opportunity to get his first true reps as someone competing for playing time. The Illinois native should earn some fans on the coaching staff with his mauler style, but he’ll have to work his way through a stocked depth chart as well.

John Montelus: Another redshirt getting his first look at true competition. Kelly spoke about Montelus’ recovery from shoulder surgery, proclaiming him healthy for spring. He’s a physically different player than most of the guys on the depth chart, with his 340 pounds a rather eye-popping number. That kind of heft might be useful in the trenches.

Ronnie Stanley: This is an important spring for Stanley, who had a sneaky, below-the-radar type season for the Irish in 2013. It’ll be clear to most that Stanley is a very good football player. Is he the Irish starting right tackle again? Does he shift to the left side? Does it really matter?

Stanley is a building block for this offensive line and will be counted on to be a key player next season. He should spend this spring asserting his dominance and preparing to be a front-line championship-level player for the Irish.

Steve Elmer: We’re past the point of wondering “if” Elmer plays next season. But “where” is a really interesting question. It’ll be important to give the sophomore a real opportunity to make a home at a position. You could make a decent argument that it could be at three or four different spots.

Elmer’s got the size and ability to be a left tackle. But if Mike McGlinchey is in the coaching staff’s plans at that position, then Elmer’s too good to keep off the field. In that case, he could slide inside and take over Chris Watt’s job. But that’s keeping some very good football players off the field as well. If Stanley flips to the left side, Elmer could play right tackle. And he spent a ton of last season playing right guard.

These type of dilemmas aren’t problems for coaching staffs. And as Alabama showed with Barrett Jones, it’s possible to slide a talented lineman all around. Elmer has that type of ability, so it’ll be a fun spring to watch what happens.

Mike McGlinchey: That Elmer isn’t a lock to step in at left tackle says a lot about McGlinchey. Expect to see and hear a lot about the monument-sized tackle, who will likely be given the first shot at the starting job. The season off likely helped McGlinchey grow into his 6-foot-8 frame, and he’ll have packed on plenty of weigh from his listed 290 pounds.

Brian Kelly has raved about McGlinchey’s athleticism, calling him athletic enough to play tight end during his signing day press conference and then talking about his arm strength and basketball ability as well. It’ll be fun to watch McGlinchey take his first meaningful snaps this spring.

Putting a redshirt freshman at left tackle is a big decision. But McGlinchey seems to fit the part well.

 

  1. oleolehey - Feb 17, 2014 at 12:52 PM

    The reason a number of schools have moved up their spring schedule is to get an early jump on recruiting. Spring ball helps define a schools needs. Then they can get a week or two start with filling them for the next recruiting cycle.

  2. NotreDan - Feb 17, 2014 at 12:56 PM

    It’s pretty awesome to think about how stacked we could be on the O-line… AND have a mobile QB with an arm. I can just see EG getting the defense on their heels and then this group of Mack Trucks plowing holes for Folston and Bryant.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Feb 17, 2014 at 2:25 PM

      you mean have MULTIPLE mobile QBs with an arm…(well, technically, they have two arms)

  3. mtflsmitty - Feb 17, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    Very impressive line-up. Given the strength of the 2013 and 2014 OL recruiting classes, scary to think how deep we’ll be across the board. When the 2nd string guys can take 30-40% of snaps without a drop of in production, 3rd and 4th quarter opponent’s-will crushing drives become much more manageable.

  4. fnc111 - Feb 17, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    Riggs is on campus today with his fam. BVG hopefully seals the deal with his SEC connections.

    • irishpuma - Feb 18, 2014 at 2:07 AM

      signed sealed and delivered its a done deal.

  5. viktory2013 - Feb 17, 2014 at 5:00 PM

    Offensive line will be just fine, thank you very much. Opening holes and pushing back a defensive line will be far easier when they are already on their heels and disorganized facing Golson’s unpredictability and his bevy of athletic receivers. Folston, Bryant and McDaniel will think it’s Christmas Day compared to last season.

  6. shaunodame - Feb 17, 2014 at 5:32 PM

    Any chance we see a transfer or two come Spring practice? Guys like Mark Harrell and Colin McGovern certainly feel like the odd men out in a way. Especially with more talented linemen coming in the summer AND ’15 class. I personally feel like a team, especially mine, can never have too many OLinemen options, but there just aren’t enough positions for all these talented players to crack the lineup. I smell a transfer, if not two.

  7. gtizzo - Feb 17, 2014 at 6:06 PM

    I think Stanley moves to the left tackle, Elmer in at right tackle and after that I’m really open. Time for Hiestand to earn his money, should be a solid offensive line this season.

  8. fnc111 - Feb 17, 2014 at 8:16 PM

    That’s a lot of inexperience on the OL now that think of it. I remember the last time we had an offensive line looking like this was 2007. I might vomit if I have to think about that anymore. Harry will be earning his keep this spring and summer.

  9. papadec - Feb 17, 2014 at 8:50 PM

    ND will need all that O-line depth with the 2014 schedule they play. I’m still having my son put $50 – $100 on ND to take it all this season, when he goes to Vegas in March. What tho the odds be great, or …….. Yeah, yeah, Paul H53, I know you think I’m crazy – but like you, you don’t really think I care what anyone else thinks. Do you?

  10. irish4life79 - Feb 17, 2014 at 9:26 PM

    I like the oline depth I think it could shape into one the most physical fronts we have had although I would like to see a more downhill physical fullback approach ala lou holtz with heavy playaction and getting golson on the edges Run pass option not a big fan of the zone read running aproach like to see more pulling guards gettin down hill on the d specially with backs we have lets run right at teams and when they come up use the mobile qb and atheletes we have at wideout to strecth the field horizontally and vertically I may be rambling but I think this can be a very physical offense like stanford or bama if kelly doesnt try to get to cute with the playcalling

    • shaunodame - Feb 17, 2014 at 11:35 PM

      No offense ’79, but I think your drinking a little too heavy on the nostalgia kool-aid. “The downhill physical fullback approach ala Holtz” give me a break! If you had your way we’d still be running the single wing. I hate this argument that Zone Read offenses aren’t physical. Cause it’s a bunch of boloney.

      The Inside Zone Read, the bread and butter play, is a downhill stuff it up the middle in your face play. Another base play, the Power play is the exact same concept as your favorite Wing T teams (ala Lou Holtz) used to run in ’79, pulling guards included. The only time this offense goes horizontally is to unclog the box and keep teams honest, ala the Outside Zone Read or the QB keep on the back end of any given number of Zone Read plays. It’s just simple common sense.

      This idea that “Spread” teams are soft is absurd. Ask teams how soft Auburn was last year. Ask your beloved Alabama team. Gus Malzahn’s Spread is as “downhill and physical” as any offense. Just because Stanford stuffs the box 11 deep and Auburn does it out of a Spread look either are not any less of a physically dominant run based game plan. Spread teams can be as physical as any. Not every spread is a Mike Leach/Dana Holgerson Air Raid attack. Wake up brother man, loosen your grip on the “good ole’ times” idea and stop living in the past.

      • irish4life79 - Feb 18, 2014 at 8:01 PM

        I wasnt trying to imply all spread zone read teams are soft there are your exceptions like auburn who basically had a tailback at qb and nfl caliber lineman upfront with stud rbs so yeah auburn was very physical due to there personnel most teams tht run that style cant duplicate that physicality dont have the players thts off my point anyway im just hoping for a more physical approach to our offense let our o line attack more and u can call it livin in the past but it worked then and if u can get big strong front it can work now and I dont like alabama but I like there style of play and sabans run at u style then hit u with the playaction not very complicated and we all know there success firsthand

  11. mediocrebob - Feb 17, 2014 at 9:52 PM

    This is the biggest strength on the team on paper at least. Hope to see some pounding. This group has me excited, especially when you add the incoming group.

  12. 1historian - Feb 18, 2014 at 2:39 PM

    Given that games are won up front, and given that good arguments were made for all 11 of those OLs mentioned to get some serious time, that leaves our 4 incoming OLs – as I understand 3 4-stars and 1 5-star – on the way to redshirting, and that’s good.

    I remember a few years back when ND won the battle for Sam Young, one of the most coveted HS Offensive linemen from the previous season. He started at ND from game one, and it was not because he was clearly the best, but because we had no depth at the position.

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