While Brian Kelly tried to downplay the finality of the significant adjustment to the two-deep depth chart along the offensive line, he talked about the rationale for flip-flopping Christian Lombard and Steve Elmer, as well as Nick Martin and Matt Hegarty on Tuesday afternoon.
“We’re still in the process of figuring out what the best five are on the offensive line. So you’re seeing an early glimpse of moving guys around on the offensive line,” Kelly explained. “The only guy that doesn’t have a lot of experience at the position he’s playing right now is Nick Martin, but we feel like he’s one of our strongest offensive linemen.”
Breaking camp, Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand seemed to put a premium on experience, choosing a platoon of Conor Hanratty and Hegarty at guard essentially over starting Mike McGlinchey at right tackle. While McGlinchey is still in the mix after three games, it appears the Irish are willing to sacrifice Elmer’s ideal length at tackle for some added push on the interior.
“With Hanratty and Hegarty at the guard position, we really like their experience, but we chose to go a little bigger, quite frankly, with the guys that we put in there,” Kelly said. “They’re really good football players, but we looked to get a little bit bigger at those positions. So it’s really very little that they did and more about a philosophical decision that we wanted to be bigger inside in terms of what we wanted to accomplish.”
The move isn’t permanent. And for those trying to look too far into the future, it doesn’t sound as if Kelly’s willing to look past this week.
“You know, you have to move some pieces around, you have to give something up to get something,” Kelly said. “We may find out that we don’t want to give up what we have to give up to get the more physicality… That’s where we are right now. Next year maybe there are guys ready to play those positions and we move them back.”
Still, it was a move that needed to happen, Kelly said. Even though it came at a bye week, it would’ve happened regardless of schedule.
While there were hopes that Amir Carlisle‘s knee injury would be a minor tweak, the senior slot receiver is out this weekend. Kelly called Carlisle questionable for Stanford, meaning that it’ll be a surprise if Notre Dame gets him back, considering Kelly’s track record for being overly optimistic on just about every injury suffered during his four-plus seasons in South Bend.
But as one receiver exits, another returns from injury. And any hopes of easing sophomore Torii Hunter into action likely ended with Carlisle’s knee tweak, as Hunter will be thrown into the mix at slot receiver with C.J. Prosise.
“Torii is being pressed into duty. He practiced aggressively,” Kelly said, updating the status of Hunter’s nagging groin injury. “So it’s no longer an experiment, it’s going to be an experience for him. It will be his first game experience on Saturday.”
The staff hadn’t fully committed to where it would play Hunter, providing perhaps the one silver lining for Carlisle’s injury. Asking the young receiver to find a home bouncing inside and out, all while fighting for playing time with Chris Brown, Corey Robinson and Will Fuller would’ve been too much to ask.
But giving Hunter an opportunity to be productive in the slot finally gives Irish fans a look at a receiver that many forgot was one of the rising stars of his recruiting class. Hunter was the MVP of The Opening before his senior season before a freak leg injury at the U.S. Army All-American game kept him on the shelf in 2013 before impressing the coaching staff during bowl prep.
We’ll see how quickly he makes his presence felt.
Senior captain Austin Collinsworth was listed on the depth chart, making his way back onto the two-deep. Collinsworth was listed behind Max Redfield at free safety, along with Matthias Farley. While Farley is still the emergency option with Nicky Baratti done for the year and Eilar Hardy still awaiting an academic conclusion, Collinsworth is finally getting back on the practice field after being injured 48 hours before the season opener.
“He practiced with us yesterday. We were very pleased with what we saw yesterday, and I think more importantly he was pleased,” Kelly said.
Notre Dame’s depth at safety isn’t ideal without Baratti or Hardy, and Farley’s inclusion at the position wasn’t the only move the Irish made in the past week to address it. Notre Dame’s coaching staff finally offered West Coast defensive back Frank Buncom.
A recruit that’s well regarded nationally, Buncom wasn’t an official offer because the Irish were already full at safety with Nicco Fertitta and Prentice McKinney. But as far as profile kids go, Buncom seems straight from RKG heaven, though the Irish will need to battle Stanford for his signature. Buncom is taking the Irish offer seriously, planning an official visit to watch the two teams battle next weekend.