Christian Lombard

Irish A-to-Z: Christian Lombard


One of four graduate students on the Irish roster, Christian Lombard feels like he’s been a part of the Notre Dame football program for a long time. As one of Charlie Weis’ earliest commitments in the 2010 class, Lombard has seen coaching changes, position switches and injury challenges in his five years in South Bend.

The injuries have only come recently. Back surgery ended 2013 for him after seven games. A freak wrist break ended his spring practice. But Lombard is healthy and will be back in the starting lineup, manning the right guard position for Harry Hiestand.

Let’s take a closer look at the Chicagoland product.


6’5″, 315 lbs.
Graduate Student, No. 74



A USA Today and Parade All-American, Lombard played in the Army All-American Bowl, and looked the part of a blue-chip offensive lineman. The Gatorade Player of the Year for Illinois pledged very early to Notre Dame, a key building block to a transitional recruiting class.

Looking the part of an elite tackle, the Irish staff thought they had two key building blocks with Lombard and the late Matt James. Here’s more from Kelly on his first Signing Day in South Bend.

“Another premier offensive lineman,” Kelly said of Lombard’s talents. “If you’re looking at national recruits, both Lombard and James fill the bill for that, and on the offensive line, that’s why we’ve got some short-term successes and both of these guys are going to help us short-term and in the future as we develop our football program.”



Freshman Season (2010): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2011): Backup offensive tackle. Played in all 13 games, mostly on special teams.

Junior Season (2012): Started all 13 games for the Irish at right tackle.

Senior Season (2013): Shifted inside to right guard, starting all seven games he played in before a season-ending back injury.



There’s a very real chance that Lombard has the type of skill-set that allows him to continue playing this game for a long time, with his versatility paying dividends on the next level. Interestingly enough, while most recruiting analysts saw him as a tackle, the Irish coaching staff evaluated some of his high school film at right guard, a position he now mans, first because of Ronnie Stanley and now to give way to Mike McGlinchey.

Lombard has the body type of a guard, not quite big enough to be a right tackle. He also views himself as a guard, fully immersed in the transition. So if he’s capable of staying healthy this year after two injuries in the last calendar year, he should be a very productive veteran lineman for the Irish. And that could help get his name called in the next NFL draft, especially under Hiestand’s tutelage.



While Kelly didn’t originally target and recruit Lombard, he’s always been high on him. One of the bigger decisions the Irish coaching staff made was letting tackle Matt Romine walk and play his fifth year elsewhere, counting on Lombard to step into the starting lineup and play. He did just that, starting all 13 games in 2012’s dream season.

From listening to Brian Kelly and sniffing around, there’s no reason to think that there’s any lingering issues with either the back or wrist. So if Lombard’s healthy, he’s a very key piece at guard, where Notre Dame has Steve Elmer playing in Chris Watt’s spot and Conor Hanratty serving as a primary backup.

One of just four fifth-year players on the Irish roster, both Lombard and Austin Collinsworth are slotted into the starting lineup. That’s a career to be proud of, especially with the way Kelly has restocked the roster these past few years.


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Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”