Irish plans for rebuilt offensive line coming along nicely

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Brian Kelly may not have made any official decision on the move of Mike McGlinchey to left tackle. But if Harry Hiestand’s rebuilt front five looks the way the Irish staff wants, it’ll likely feature McGlinchey on the left side with Quenton Nelson and three new starters lined up next to each other.

With only one practice in the books, Kelly discussed what he thinks will be his starting five come September, and it appears that junior center Sam Mustipher is going to get first crack at the job. After serving as Nick Martin’s backup in 2015, Mustipher was all but penciled into the lineup, a potential building block as the search for the right side comes into focus.

“I think you’re going see at least with McGlinchey, Nelson and Mustipher, that’s going be a pretty consistent thing,” Kelly said Wednesday. “Then on the right side there’s really three guys that are competing for two positions, so we’re going to have some really good consistency there. So I think we’re going to come out of this with really a good rotation.”

Those three guys are senior Colin McGovern, senior Hunter Bivin and junior Alex Bars, with Bars still not all the way back from an ankle injury that ended his 2015 season in October against USC. That silver lining of that injury is that it has allowed the Irish staff to take a closer look at McGovern and Bivin, two seniors getting their first legitimate chance at playing time after three seasons as backups.

Bivin’s best home is tackle. After bouncing around the line he served as the primary backup to Ronnie Stanley last season and could be capable of moving into the starting lineup in McGlinchey’s old job. But Bars has the talent to play outside as well, though he might begin his spring at guard, where he started two games last season in place of Nelson. McGovern is another program body who has paid his dues and shown some versatility. He now has a chance to see the field, Steve Elmer’s retirement opening up a window.

It’s not just a veteran presence Kelly and Hiestand are looking for. Expect incoming freshman Tommy Kraemer to get a long look. Tristen Hoge, who impressed Kelly with a 30-inch vertical leap—the best Kelly has seen from an offensive lineman since former star Joe Staley. While Hoge doesn’t look like he’ll be the team’s center (the only natural center recruited by this staff), he’s getting plenty of reps at guard as well.

“I think you’re throwing Hoge in the mix there where he’s the new guy, but he’s not that new to the group,” Kelly said, acknowledging that this is the second spring in the rising sophomore’s career. “I feel pretty good that three out of the five guys know each other really well.”

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Kelly also discussed the move of former guard John Montelus to the defensive line, talking through some of the logic behind putting the rising senior in the trenches.

“He’s one of our most powerful players, and there wasn’t really light at the end of the tunnel for him on the offensive line,” Kelly said. “We just felt like he could be a guy who at least could play a shade and give us some strong play inside, he’s a mature kid. Just more depth for us as we continue to develop the younger players. An older guy who is mature, who we can count on to do some things for us,  specific things—we’re not going to ask him to do a lot—but we know the job can get done.”

Montelus’ move might be a direct response to some of the struggles Notre Dame had in the run game, specifically in short yardage and goal line situations. He could also be some nice protection to some undersized but athletic linebackers, much more capable of running down a ball carrier with a 310-pound boulder eating up blockers.