One week from now this space can feature new activity on a football field, complete with pads, footballs and everything. For now, though, the looks back to recent seasons with future ponderings must continue.
A broad view quickly separates positional groupings into seven. Hey, that’s how many days are in a week. Wow, that’s timely.
Embracing that convenience, the question is in what order to discuss those seven groupings. Rather than make a unilateral decision, I asked an old friend who claims to be a longtime “Inside the Irish” reader.
“I’d probably go offense first, just because I think there are more question marks and intrigue on defense with the new coordinator and all that,” he said. “Then I’d probably order them by expected level of interest or question marks.”
With that mandate, today presents a quick look at the Notre Dame offensive line.
The Irish return four 12-game starters from last season in graduate student tackle Mike McGlinchey, senior tackle Alex Bars, senior guard Quenton Nelson and senior center Sam Mustipher. Logically, those four will retain their starting spots.
Aside from that foursome’s 75 career starts, graduate student Hunter Bivin brings back the only start among the possibilities for the fifth spot. He faces a steep climb to claim the lead role at right guard, though.
If those four do retain their spots atop the depth chart, junior Tristen Hoge and sophomores Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg will give offensive line coach Harry Hiestand options.
Hiestand could keep Bars at right tackle, making Hoge the likely candidate at right guard, or Hiestand could opt to move Bars to right guard and let Kraemer and Eichenberg challenge each other for the starting right guard role.
Either way, the Notre Dame offensive line should provide a solid foundation for the 2017 Irish offense. An added season—and offseason, including the coming spring practices—of 80 percent of the line working together can only help build on last year’s performance. Of all places, chemistry and unity serve as greatest assets on the offensive front. It takes time to develop those.
While last year’s rushing statistics fall short when compared to 2015’s, they were not disappointing on their own. Removing sacks and the yards lost from them—the NCAA counts sacks as rushes, despite how they can inappropriately distort rushing statistics—Notre Dame finished with 2,123 rushing yards on 410 attempts for an average of 5.18 yards per carry.
In 2015, the Irish finished with 2,858 rushing yards on 453 attempts for an average of 6.31 yards per carry. The added game in that season accounted for 146 of that added yardage. Obviously, the flow of particular games in 2016 also may have skewed the total stats, though the average still fell by more than a yard.
Last season, Notre Dame allowed 28 sacks, compared to 26 in 13 games the year prior.
The alignment that first faces Temple will likely not be decided upon until fall practices. Hiestand has a proven history of shuffling linemen into positions to create the best unit, so an unexpected maneuver would not be the most shocking development. Nonetheless, any glimpses spring practices provide of what he is tinkering with should provide some insight as to where Bars, Hoge, Kraemer and Eichenberg stand.
Junior guard Trevor Ruhland and sophomore guard Parker Boudreaux will keep that competition honest. Early enrollee freshmen tackle Aaron Banks and guard Robert Hainsey will provide even more added depth, but anything more than that is quite unlikely. Classmates Josh Lugg and Dillan Gibbons will join the ranks at the end of summer.
Having already pointed out the congruence of seven position groups and seven days in a week, below is the rest of the week’s intended scheduling, at least in that regard. If I publicize it here, I have no choice but to follow through, right?
Thursday: Receivers/Tight Ends*
Friday: Running Backs
Sunday: Defensive Backs
Tuesday: Defensive Linemen
Wednesday, March 8: Spring practice begins.
*To be completely honest, the consulted reader did not specify if tight ends should fit among the offensive line or the receivers. That was a unilateral decision.