Entering his junior season, offensive lineman Mark Harrell has yet to make his way onto the field for the Irish. With a loaded depth chart in front of him and some promising youngsters pushing their way up the depth chart, the battle in 2014 doesn’t look much easier.
With the ability to play any position on the line, Harrell’s versatility could be his key to get onto the field. We’ve seen it in glimpses, where he filled in at center during the Blue-Gold game. And we’ll need to continue to see him develop in 2014 if he wants to find a way to contribute on a loaded offensive line.
Let’s take a look at the Charlotte native, and examine how he’ll find his way onto the football field.
6’4″, 305 lbs.
Junior, No. 75
Harrell had an impressive offer list for a three-star prospect, with the Charlotte native a first-team All-State performer in North Carolina. Harrell committed early to the Irish, giving his pledge in May over offers from Auburn, Clemson, Michigan, South Carolina, Stanford and Tennessee among others.
On Signing Day, Brian Kelly dropped an “RKG” bomb when discussing Harrell, and also talked about his versatility.
“I think when you talk about this class, it’s still about Notre Dame and how they fit here, the right kind of guys and how they fit in here,” Kelly said. “And I know you hear that all of the time, RKGs, they have to be RKGs. They have to have the right character traits, they have to understand Notre Dame and the value of an education, and Mark Harrell comes from that environment. He’s got a great family, he’s very versatile, he’s played at the center position in All‑Star games; he’s played the tackle position, tight end. He’s somebody when you talk about an offensive lineman, who can bend, he’s flexible, has good feet, and we like the fact that he is an intense competitor.”
Freshman Season (2012): Did not see action.
Sophomore Season (2013): Did not see action.
It’s hard to say what Harrell is capable of when we’ve seen so little of him. But a closer look at the depth chart makes it difficult to see where Harrell will slot in. One of the biggest value-adds he likely brings to the Irish is the ability to snap and play along the interior of the offensive line. That said, he was fairly shaky with his shotgun snaps in the Blue-Gold game, often times forcing Everett Golson to fight for the ball after missing his target wide left or right.
Harrell clearly had some good offers and just because an offensive lineman hasn’t seen the field in his first two seasons doesn’t mean he’s doomed to failure. But 2014 will be a critical year for his development. After two full years with Paul Longo and Harry Hiestand, we’ll know fairly quickly if Harrell’s been lapped by a younger player or if he’s in the mix for a complementary role on the line.
If we end up seeing Harrell in regular duty, it’s likely because something went wrong with injuries. If Harrell’s at center, it means Nick Martin and Matt Hegarty are down. If he’s in at guard, it’ll be because of an injury to Christian Lombard, Steve Elmer or Conor Hanratty.
Playing on special teams seems to be the most likely scenario for Harrell this season. It’ll give him an opportunity to provide depth, see live action after two seasons of practicing and add experienced depth to the roster. In years past, Harrell was the type of guy who would be starting by his junior season. It says quite a bit about the depth that he’s just fighting to stay relevant.
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