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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, right tackle

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-6, 294 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Sophomore with four years of eligibility remaining including 2017
Depth chart: Eichenberg and classmate Tommy Kraemer engaged in a back-and-forth competition at the right tackle spot throughout spring practice. Kraemer appears to have an edge for the starting honor, albeit a slight edge, as it pertains to the 2017 season.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit, rivals.com listed Eichenberg as the No.11 tackle in the country and the No. 6 recruit in Ohio. (Kraemer was the No. 4 tackle and the top player in Ohio.) The Under Armour All-American spurned offers from Michigan, Ohio State and Florida State, among many others, to commit to Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.

CAREER TO DATE
Eichenberg preserved a year of eligibility in 2016. So, instead, here is the highlight video Notre Dame propagated upon Eichenberg’s signing in February of 2016.

QUOTE(S)
As Eichenberg and Kraemer alternated practices with the first unit, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly spent much of spring comparing and contrasting the two. Many of these quotes are repeated from Kraemer’s 99-to-2 post from last week. Simply put, when it comes to pertinent bits about either of the young linemen, progress was measured as much in its relation to the other as it was in overall growth.

“Those two are the guys we have mapped out at right tackle and they’re going to battle,” Kelly said in March. “… They’re going to keep battling and splitting the action out there.”

Kelly was asked multiple times throughout the two months of spring practices if senior Alex Bars was an option at right tackle. Kelly insisted Bars would remain at right guard and one of the sophomores would need to step forward as the outside protector. It should be noted, Bars started 12 games at right tackle last year as the Irish returned four offensive line starters.

“I think it’s firmly established at the right guard position,” Kelly said. “Alex Bars is going to be the right guard. I don’t see that there’s going to be any real change there. He was a starter for us last year.

“It’s the right tackle position that continues to be a competitive situation with Kraemer and Eichenberg still working and splitting reps there. Each one of them is a little different. Kraemer at times a little bit more physical. Liam a little bit longer, maybe. Longer translates itself into pass [protection]. Both of them still are on that learning curve but both of them are really good players.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
A redshirt for Eichenberg.

“Then a spring where he could be in a battle to replace Notre Dame’s next first-round left tackle. (It’s too early to predict if McGlinchey is heading to the NFL, but he certainly will have all eyes on him.)

“Regardless, it’s a critically important season for Eichenberg on the practice field and in the weight room. Because there’s every reason to believe that the Irish will be reloading on the offensive line this recruiting cycle, and there [will] be competition in the ranks from the moment he steps on campus.”

2017 OUTLOOK
To continue to pull from the Kramer entry, his slight lead over Eichenberg for the starting right tackle position has some uneasy. The Irish coaches would have undoubtedly preferred to see one of the two — or, certainly ideally, both — emerge as a bona fide seal on the outside. Instead, both delivered an up-and-down spring, leaving the eventual starter open to ready second-guessing.

Kraemer will likely start against Temple, but Eichenberg will have a chance in August to make his claim. Even if he does not prevail, Eichenberg will see playing time this season.

DOWN THE ROAD
In some respects, spending 2017 as a back up could bode better for Eichenberg’s long-term career. Fifth-year senior Mike McGlinchey will not be Notre Dame’s left tackle in 2018. If Eichenberg spent this season readying for that role, it could be his while Kraemer remains — hypothetically — at right tackle.

It is not to say one position is more important than the other, but the NFL does pay left tackles much better than right tackles.

Either Eichenberg or Kraemer will start at right tackle this year (unless Kelly backtracks on insisting Bars will be right guard). One or the other will have first crack at starting at left tackle in 2018.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 75 Daniel Cage, defensive tackle

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-1 ½, 329 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Senior with only one season of eligibility remaining
Depth chart: Cage fell behind junior Jerry Tillery last season and remains the primary back up at the defensive tackle position.
Recruiting: A rivals.com three-star prospect, Cage popped up on Notre Dame’s radar late in the 2014 recruitment cycle. A combination of defensive coordinator change (from Bob Diaco to Brian VanGorder) and positional need led to Cage getting a late offer. Cage committed on National Signing Day, surprising many who pegged him for a Michigan State likelihood.

CAREER TO DATE
The stats tell a misleading story when it comes to Cage’s career. When on the field, he has consistently performed, but injuries have hampered his playing time. A knee injury cost him a game in his freshman season, a concussion kept him from two games in 2015, and concussion issues last season again cut short his season.

2014: 11 games, four tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss
2015: 11 games, 18 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss
2016: 8 games, 10 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble

QUOTE(S)
Cage’s concussion issues last season lead to muffled conversations about him to date. Until he shows he is back in football shape and entirely good-to-go, the Irish coaches will likely not publicly place too much of an emphasis on him, and understandably so. Thus, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s only reference specifically of Cage this spring came in passing more than anything else.

“Daniel Cage has had his best spring,” Kelly said in April. “I think that’s going to continue to transfer [over].”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
I think a season like the one Jarron Jones had in 2014 might be a nice ceiling for Cage, with a7.5 TFL and 40 tackles being a really nice year. (Remember, that was done in 11 games, too.) Realistically, Cage might get some of his productivity eaten up by a highly-motivated Jones, who is playing a fifth-year that’s essentially an audition for NFL talent evaluators.

“Reading between the lines, Keith Gilmore and VanGorder have talked about a larger rotation up front for the defensive line. That’ll likely be some by necessity—Sheldon Day isn’t walking through those doors anymore—and the fact that there’s some versatility among the group of linemen who will hopefully provide answers this season.

“Cage is a huge piece of that ensemble. Even last season, he was Notre Dame’s fifth-most productive player, per the PFF College rankings. He’s got the bulk and strength to play in the trenches, assuming his fitness and health cooperate this year.

“He’s not going to get confused for a NFL-sized monster like Jones, though he does have the ability to flash at the level of someone like Ian Williams—a guy who is wearing a ‘C’ on his jersey in the NFL right now. So all in all, Cage is a good player who could put together a great season.”

2017 OUTLOOK
This is a tricky spot to project. Concussion issues don’t follow a set timeline. If they are indeed in Cage’s past, his senior season could be a surprising success. If they are not, his time would be better spent tending to those than anything football-related.

For this spot’s sake, let’s operate as if Cage is past any health concerns.

In 2017, he will have abundant chance to contribute, and his track record indicates he will make the most of those moments. Rather than focus on tackle totals, the best measurement of Cage’s success will be how he fills the holes, theoretically stemming an opponent’s running attack. Similar to the Louis Nix/Manti Te’o dynamic, if Cage does his job properly, senior linebackers Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini will see the benefits on the stat sheet. Cage fits that role much better than Tillery or even senior Jonathan Bonner.

From the first game of his freshman season, Cage has shown ability. That has never been the question. It is simply a matter of him staying on the field.

DOWN THE ROAD
If Cage were to suffer an injury, a fifth year would be possible. Otherwise, this is it. To this point, he does not present as an NFL prospect, but agile 320+ pounders are not found easily, so his playing career could have more of a future than necessarily presumed.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 77 Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4, 304 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Junior with three years of eligibility remaining including 2017
Depth chart: Tiassum resides in the unproven depths of the defensive tackle position. With junior Jerry Tillery and senior Jonathan Bonner as the presumptive starters, and senior Daniel Cage as a prominent backup, Tiassum competes with the likes of junior Micah Dew-Treadway and senior Pete Mokwuah for playing time. Incoming freshman Darnell Ewell will likely jump to the forefront of that pack quickly this summer while his classmate Kurt Hinish will also join the fray.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star recruit, Tiassum received an early scholarship offer from Notre Dame and committed early in the recruiting cycle. Coming ffrom a small Indiana high school, Tiassum was lightly-recruited.

CAREER TO DATE
Tiassum preserved a year of eligibility in 2015. He did not appear in any games last season, either.

QUOTE(S)
When junior Elijah Taylor was ruled out for spring practices and much of the summer due to a foot injury, Irish coach Brian Kelly mentioned Tiassum as one of the primary options to fill in for him.

“Brandon Tiassum will have to continue to get better, and he has been,” Kelly said. “[Tiassum and junior Micah Dew-Treadway] will continue to get more work.”

A few weeks later, Kelly praised Tiassum’s development, even if it has been slightly delayed.

“He’s coming on,” Kelly said. “He came from a program that really was a basketball program and he’s been in a learning mode, and we’re seeing some signs.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
Get on the field and this year is a success. With Micah Dew-Treadway injured and Grant Blankenship off the roster, perhaps there’s a better chance to do that than there was entering camp. But Tiassum right now is a big anonymous body in a jersey. You can like the physical profile and the kind words from [former Notre Dame defensive lineman Isaac] Rochell, but he’s a complete wild card.

“Realistically, Tiassum is a long way from the field, but he’s got a chance to play if the Irish get a game out of hand or injuries hit. So while he’s certainly moved the needle in the right direction, my expectations are still limited—impressive if he finds his way into the college game.”

2017 OUTLOOK
Tiassum did not get on the field in 2016, meaning he did not succeed by Keith’s metrics. If applying a similar gauge to this coming season, Tiassum may not succeed again.

He is currently stuck behind both Tillery and Cage. Ewell’s arrival this summer will likely knock Tiassum down another peg. It should be noted: That is as much a compliment to Ewell and a high bar for expectations of the incoming freshman as it is anything else. If and when Ewell surpasses Tiassum, even a rash of Irish injuries would not get the junior onto the field.

Nonetheless, it is hard to fathom a second eligibility-using season without any action. If for no other reason than to see how he reacts to a game atmosphere, the Notre Dame coaching staff will likely try to get Tiassum into a game or two, but it remains doubtful he is asked to contribute in meaningful action.

DOWN THE ROAD
Further complicating Tiassum’s future, those filling the depth chart ahead of him largely have eligibility remaining. Even if Tillery were to jump to the NFL early following the 2017 season, only he and Cage would be gone in 2018. If Tiassum cannot elevate himself over Bonner and Taylor at this point, or even Ewell, then it is tough to project him doing so in a year.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

Friday at 4: Football, the common thread of a community

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The lanyard reads “Forever Irish.” Lunch included waffles, pizza and doughnuts. The headache currently hampers attempts to form complete sentences.

That’s right, it’s reunion weekend at Notre Dame. From now until students return in mid-August, this weekend will be the most-crowded on campus of the summer, filled with graduates from 2012, 2007, 2002 and so on.

The catchphrase on the nametags and t-shirts is rather over the top. Forever Irish. But let’s skip past criticizing an obvious marketing campaign and instead jump to the redeeming value of reunion weekend. More than that, the redeeming value of an ever-expanding football program as quite literally evidenced by Notre Dame Stadium itself.

A reunion weekend isn’t my typical cup of tea. Maybe that is a symptom of my general disdain for small talk and past acquaintances acting like great friends. Or perhaps it is hereditary. I am the first of my family to attend a college reunion of any interval.

Within the first 24 hours, I was asked about the football team’s 2017 prospects five times. I, in turn, did my best not to ask how five years at Deloitte or Credit Suisse have been.

My initial aggravation to the gridiron query struck me as self-righteous, so I paused for a drink and pondered why it was so often asked. Certainly, it is part laziness, the easiest form of small talk. As a cynic, that is all I heard to start. But the question, like reunion weekend as a whole, is more than the apparent chatter. It is the thread of a community.

Take that carbohydrate-filled lunch, for example. Andrea asked the question, and I immediately replied, “You don’t really care.” She sharply corrected me. Andrea doesn’t see many of her Notre Dame classmates frequently anymore. That’s what happens when you live in a small New England town. But come fall Saturdays, she finds her way to a game watch. Those are obviously more appealing when the games are entertaining. A win elicits texts back-and-forth with those old college friends.

Andrea may not personally care if the Irish go 11-1 or 8-4, but she knows the boost a good season provides her friendships. A successful fall turns Andrea from an East Coast hermit into a social butterfly keeping up with past connections.

Notre Dame’s reunion festivities create an excuse for all those friends to gather for a summer weekend. The location is rather beside the point.

In an era of bowling alone, of posting 10-second segments of a small concert to social media to prove attendance, of #hashtags, genuine connection is less and less common. Every one of us knows this.

Andrea came to reunion seeing a chance to engage, not a chance to revisit campus. She goes to the game watches more for the potential interactions than the actual football. But it is the football that presents that window.

As this posts, Trevor will inevitably set down a brown paper bag, turn to me and ask if I think Notre Dame will beat USC in October. I won’t want to answer. Whether I say yes or no, I will be told I am wrong.

But I’ll do my best to answer. Trevor hasn’t seen me in a few years, and he knows we will spend a few hours at the same table tonight. We used to get along quite well. Working our way back to that dynamic might need some conversations not entirely about the drinks in our hands. If predicting autumn outcomes has to be that avenue, so be it.

I will not, however, set down my brown paper bag. This headache isn’t going to go away on its own and a Friday afternoon is no time to allow it to linger.

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right tackle

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-5 ½, 313 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Sophomore with four years of eligibility remaining including 2017
Depth chart: Kraemer and classmate Liam Eichenberg engaged in a back-and-forth competition at the right tackle spot throughout spring practice. Kraemer appears to have an edge for the starting honor, albeit a slight edge.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit, rivals.com listed Kraemer as the No. 4 tackle in the country and the top recruit in Ohio, where he was named Gatorade Player of the Year. The Under Armour All-American spurned Big Ten offers from Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin to commit to Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand early in a recruitment devoid of drama.

CAREER TO DATE
Kraemer preserved a year of eligibility in 2016. So, instead, here is the highlight video Notre Dame propagated upon Kraemer’s signing in February of 2016.

QUOTE(S)
As Kraemer and Eichenberg alternated practices with the first unit, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly spent much of spring comparing and contrasting the two. When Eichenberg’s requisite 99-to-2 post comes Monday, many of these same quotes will be repeated. Simply put, when it comes to pertinent bits about either of the young linemen, progress was measured as much in its relation to the other as it was in overall growth.

“Those two are the guys we have mapped out at right tackle and they’re going to battle,” Kelly said in March. “… They’re going to keep battling and splitting the action out there.”

Kelly was asked multiple times throughout the two months of spring practices if senior Alex Bars was an option at right tackle. Kelly insisted Bars would remain at right guard, even though he spent 2016 at the position in question, and one of the sophomores would need to step forward as the outside protector.

“I think it’s firmly established at the right guard position,” Kelly said. “Alex Bars is going to be the right guard. I don’t see that there’s going to be any real change there. He was a starter for us last year.

“It’s the right tackle position that continues to be a competitive situation with Kraemer and Eichenberg still working and splitting reps there. Each one of them is a little different. Kraemer at times a little bit more physical. Liam a little bit longer, maybe. Longer translates itself into pass [protection]. Both of them still are on that learning curve but both of them are really good players.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
If Notre Dame can redshirt Kraemer, they’d be wise to do so. That’d mean they survived at tackle with Mike McGlinchey and Alex Bars, and also found a starter at right guard from a collection of talent that range from young (Tristen Hoge) to old (Hunter Bivin).

“But Kraemer may be too good not to redshirt. If that’s the case, he’ll likely start out on the inside while backing up both tackle spots, knowing that the depth chart on the outside is shakier than it should be after the early departure of Ronnie Stanley.

“The value of a redshirt (Martin, Stanley, McGlinchey, Nelson) shouldn’t be lost. Especially if someone else can ascend and play good football at right guard. But Kraemer is a building block for the future. The timing is still just TBD.”

2017 OUTLOOK
Kraemer’s slight lead over Eichenberg for the starting right tackle position has some uneasy. The Irish coaches would have undoubtedly preferred to see one of the two — or, certainly ideally, both — emerge as a bona fide seal on the outside. Instead, both delivered an up-and-down spring, leaving the eventual starter open to ready second-guessing.

Kraemer will likely start against Temple (in 92 days, if you’re counting). He will need to earn that gig all over again in fall practice (tentatively, about 65 days away).

From there, if Kraemer can deliver 99 percent of the time, it will be a good sign. That one blown play a game will upset Notre Dame fans, but such the plight of an offensive lineman. Kraemer’s workload will not be too steep as the Irish will likely favor running to the left side of the line behind stalwarts fifth-year senior left tackle Mike McGlinchey and senior left guard Quenton Nelson, both potential NFL Draft first-rounders come the spring of 2018.

That could give Kraemer a chance to ease into the season. At some point, however, offensive coordinator Chip Long, Hiestand and Kelly will need to know they can rely on their right tackle.

DOWN THE ROAD
However Kraemer’s 2017 pans out, his future at Notre Dame is bright. Hiestand’s track record with top-tier talent is too impressive to assume anything but gradual and thorough development from Kraemer. The spring of his freshman season is understandably early in that process.

Hiestand’s success has been so great, it makes comparing any current offensive linemen to their predecessors an exercise in futility. The likes of Ronnie Stanley and Zack Martin were seemingly so unique, asking anyone to match their production is unfair. If understanding that realistic nature of expectations, Kraemer should continue Hiestand’s roll in due time.

He will have plenty of opportunity moving forward, beginning in 2018 when the Irish will be without McGlinchey, Nelson and fifth-year senior Hunter Bivin, the utility knife providing support across Hiestand’s line.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80 Durham Smythe, tight end