After putting together one of the school’s most productive offensive lines, Notre Dame needs to find three new starters to step in for Ronnie Stanley, Nick Martin and Steve Elmer. Spring has already revealed Brian Kelly and Harry Hiestand’s intentions of playing rising junior Sam Mustipher at center. And after a time-consuming recovery from a broken ankle suffered last season, it appears that rising junior Alex Bars is looking like the answer at right tackle.
Bars landing on the edge is likely the type of decision that solves any remaining calculus up front for the Irish. Especially as a new-look left side of the offensive line featuring the monstrous duo of Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson takes hold.
Kelly raised more than a few eyebrows when he mentioned that Nelson weighed 346 pounds—a number dialed back by Hiestand and Notre Dame’s sports information department. But whatever the number may be, any reservations Kelly has about the transition of McGlinchey from right tackle to the left side have been eliminated.
“The left side is crystal clear,” Kelly said. “Those two players are really good. Mike’s been our most efficient blocker and Quenton is in the best physical shape that he’s been in. He’s a rare football player.”
The opposite side still needs clarifying, though Bars fitting in at tackle helps this group come into focus. It also allows us to better understand what this line will look like come an early-September business trip to Austin.
Bars has always had the ability to play tackle, catching Kelly’s eye as a true freshman on the scout team. But with limited depth on the outside, the 6-foot-6, 320-pounder can also solidify a rare roster deficiency that’ll be patched up once promising freshman Tommy Kraemer gets to campus.
“He needs to play tackle,” Hiestand acknowledged on Monday. “We have to have guys that can protect on the edge at tackle when the game comes down to that…Alex has to be able to do that for us. It’s been a process to get Alex back off that broken ankle. We’re kind of progressing in and not overloading him too soon.”
With Bars settling in, that moves the focus to right guard. Seniors Colin McGovern and Hunter Bivin seem to have separated themselves from rising sophomore Tristen Hoge. McGovern has gotten healthy after a concussion forced him out of practice. Bivin will have cross-over ability, capable of serving as a back-up at tackle and giving the Irish “three guys for two spots” with both veterans set to see their first substantial playing time in their career.
“If they’re even, they’re both going to play because they’re both good enough to help us,” Hiestand said.