Next generation on offensive line is ready to contribute


As injuries chipped away at Notre Dame’s offensive line, the transition from present to future was jump-started last season. While ironman Zack Martin made it through the season unscathed, the best laid plans for Harry Hiestand‘s offensive line were thrown into the fire as back-ups at nearly ever position were put to good use.

True freshman Steve Elmer saw the field. Matt Hegarty, who a calendar year earlier was considering retirement after suffering a stroke, was playing center. Chris Watt and Christian Lombard, two anchors on the 2012 offensive line, both went down with injuries. Even first year starter Nick Martin ended his season with a knee injury.

Yet the unit, even with parts swapped out on the fly, stayed together. The run game churned out yards and the pass protection of Tommy Rees remained strong. But more importantly, the base for the 2014 line began to take place, with Hiestand getting an early evaluation tool that’s come in handy this spring.

With nearly two-thirds of spring practice in the books, the offensive line is beginning to take shape. And as we’ve seen in the past, the Irish staff has concentrated on getting the five best offensive linemen onto the field.

That’s meant making way for Mike McGlinchey at right tackle and shifting Ronnie Stanley into Zack Martin’s old position. It also means another season at guard for Elmer, after most had his career tabbed as tackle.

Earlier in the week both McGlinchey and Elmer were made available to the media. Both talked about the positions they find themselves in this season, thankful for the tutelage that came from departed stalwarts Martin and Watt.

“We’re all working to be like Zack and Watt were here,” Elmer told Lou Somogyi at BlueandGold.com. “We’re all just trying to work to make sure there is no drop-off with technique, communication. Not just on the left side, but everywhere.”

Elmer also talked about staying on the interior of the line. After Notre Dame essentially lined up five guard across the line of scrimmage in 2012, they’ll have Elmer, who at 6-5.5, 317 pounds is a prototype tackle, lined up at guard and bigger bodies at the two tackles as well.

“Whatever the coaches want me to do, wherever they think I can help the team the most, I’m willing to play there,” Elmer told the South Bend Tribune. “It’s still offensive line, whether it’s guard, tackle, left side, right side. That’s just kind of how I look at it. And the biggest thing is to have one position I’m looking at now and I can settle on honing in on that one.”

Elmer’s move inside was largely facilitated by the fact that Mike McGlinchey was ready to play. The gigantic right tackle adds more bulk to the Irish offensive line, with the athletic, 6-foot-7.5-inch tackle another physically dominant player.

While redshirting in 2013, McGlinchey took advantage of his chance to watch and learn from Zack Martin. The Philadelphia native hopes to have a career similar to the one Martin had, spending his first season in South Bend redshirting before starting for four straight years under Kelly.

Tim Prister of IrishIllustrated.com profiled McGlinchey, who also cited the example Martin and Watt provided as motivation to carry that excellence forward.

“I worked extremely hard in the off-season and all of last season to put myself in a position to compete for the starting job,” McGlinchey said. “I’d like to think Coach Kelly and Coach Hiestand are getting more and more trust in me as the days go on.

“I paid attention and I had a lot of good guys to learn the system. I learned how to act and learned how to be a Notre Dame offensive lineman.”

McGlinchey appreciated the opportunity to work behind and learn from Zack Martin — Notre Dame’s iron man left tackle — who started an amazing 52 straight games for the Irish from 2010-13.

“It was definitely a blessing coming in and having a guy like Zack in front of me,” McGlinchey said. “Coach Hiestand talks about it all the time. I don’t think there’s a greater example in the country than Zack.”

While Christian Lombard still has a final season of eligibility remaining, the Irish have seen the core of their line depart in the past two seasons. But with McGlinchey, Elmer and Stanley, the Irish have a new foundation, a trio that could play an awful lot of football together. Injured center Nick Martin has two seasons of eligibility remaining, and behind him a wave of young talent also waits to see the field.

After the depth chart all but emptied during the 2012 season, the coffers should be full come 2014, as another large group of freshmen join the roster. But after relying on a group of veterans to power the offensive front, the youth up front gives the Irish a strong foundation and a very bright future.

Kelly confident Robinson will rebound

Notre Dame v Florida State

Corey Robinson‘s season was already off to a slow start. And that was before a difficult night at Clemson. The junior receiver came into last weekend with only four catches, held out against UMass after a pregame tweak of his knee put a scare into the Irish.

Robinson’s knee checked out fine. But mentally, it appears that the sure-handed junior is struggling.

Just before halftime against the Tigers, Robinson failed to reel in a long catch that would’ve given the Irish a much-needed touchdown heading into half. Early in the fourth quarter, a high throw from DeShone Kizer on the Irish’s first failed two-point conversion play slid through Robinson’s hands. Made worse was a mental mistake by Robinson, the Irish needing to use one of their second half timeouts when the junior wasn’t on the field.

Coached hard on the sideline by Brian Kelly and coached up by his position coach Mike Denbrock (as we saw on both Showtime and Fighting Irish Media’s ICON), the staff is doing it’s best to get Robinson’s confidence back.

With some wondering if Robinson’s struggles should open the door for talented freshman Equanimeous St. Brown, Kelly talked about their belief that the junior will return to form.

“Corey Robinson is going to get the job done. I had a very lengthy conversation with him yesterday,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I believe in Corey. Corey’s got to believe in himself, and he will. He’s got to go attack the football. He’s letting the football come to him. He’s letting it eat him up a little bit, but I believe in Corey.”

There’s no better place to showcase that belief than against Navy. The Midshipmen don’t have a defender physically capable of matching up with the 6-foot-5 Robinson, who will likely face his share of single coverage with Will Fuller likely demanding safety help.

Then it’s just a matter of Robinson showing the hands and confidence that made him one of last year’s most consistent performers.

“Once he starts attacking the football, I think we’re going to see somebody that can make the plays that we expect him to make,” Kelly said. “So I’m optimistic that we’re going to see the guy that we need to see on Saturday.”

And in that corner… The Navy Midshipmen

Keenan Reynolds, Jamar Summers

The theme of this week’s game might very well be mutual respect. But if Notre Dame is going to get their season back on track, they’ll need to very quickly get past any sort of reverence they have for Ken Niumatalolo and the Navy Midshipmen and look for any way to beat them.

Sandwiched between showdowns against Clemson and USC, Navy comes to town, one of the below-the-radar unbeaten teams in the country. With option superstar Keenan Reynolds in the final year of a career that is already one of the most prolific in college football history, the Irish defense goes into triple-option mode for the second time in this young season, asked to once again find an answer for an attack that not many people have solved.

Helping us to prepare for the Midshipmen is the play-by-play voice of Navy athletics, Pete Medhurst. Covering Navy football since 1997, Pete was kind enough to get us ready for the 89th meeting between Notre Dame and the Naval Academy.

Hope you enjoy.


Lost in the misery Notre Dame fans feel after the Irish’s undefeated hopes washed away in Clemson last weekend, is that the Navy team coming to South Bend is really, really good. I know it’s early, but you’ve been covering the Midshipmen for a long time. Can you rank where this team stacks up compared to some of the others you’ve seen?

I think its the best overall Navy team, considering the play of both units right now and special teams as well. The defense is giving up  just 15 points a game, and based on the prowess of the offense, that’s going to lead to a lot of victories if you play at that level.


Is Keenan Reynolds the best triple-option QB in Navy history? As someone who has watched his career evolve, can you speak to his improvements as a quarterback and a player? How important has he been to the evolution of this program?

I believe production speaks for itself. Good health could make him the leading touchdown scorer of all-time in the sport. He’s a coach on the field. Speaks like a coach, has a want to get better. Each day is a mission for him and the unit to get better and they hold themselves to a high standard to meet each day, he’s the leader of that group.



Joining the American Conference was a huge decision, but one that looks to be paying dividends. Have you noticed a difference in the program now that they’re chasing a conference title?

Coaches say it is. They have been met with quality response on the road recruiting. We get to states that are important footprints for us and just adds another goal where our players can be rewarded for their hard work. The conference has been very, very, good so far this year.


Defensively, this game should stress Navy. Notre Dame’s big-play potential is the best of the Brian Kelly era. (The Irish already have more 50-plus yard touchdowns than they’ve had in any other season under Kelly.)

Takeaways and preventing big plays seem to be a tenet of a Buddy Green defense. Are those the big keys for the Midshipmen defensively?

No question this is by far the fastest team Notre Dame has ever had. I go all the way back to the great Lindsay Nelson days when I used to watch the Notre Dame football report every Sunday morning. They can attack you anywhere at anytime with several people. Double cover one, they have three others in the formation who can beat you any play. Brian has put together a great plan and his coaches have delivered great recruits to the program. Many teams can’t survive an injury to the QB, but they have.

Mids have turned teams over this year and that’s a huge key for any defense. With Dale Pehrson taking over the defense (note: Green is taking a sabbatical to recover from major neck surgery this season) those goals have not changed. Eleven guys getting to the football, ball comes out, you have a great chance to get it!


Notre Dame had success earlier this season against Georgia Tech, and Brian Kelly spent a gigantic portion of his offseason preparing for the triple-option, going as far as recruiting a walk-on option quarterback who runs an option-specific scout team.

Do you think the success the Irish defense had against Paul Johnson’s triple-option will help this weekend? Or do you see subtle, but important differences between what Ken Niumatalolo does than his predecessor?

Coach Kelly is a good football coach. After we beat them at the Meadowlands, 35-17, you sensed, he was going to work hard to find a solution because for them to achieve their goals, they have to beat us.

Im not sure how many huge differences their are in our two offenses, one though is the QB. His ability to get Navy into the right play is huge no matter how a team lines up. Defensive personnel has improved in a huge way for Notre Dame too. They have quality people who can run and get to the ball. Last couple have been barn burners. Hopefully Saturday can be the same.