Notre Dame’s offensive line depth is often discussed through the lens of the impressive prospects it churns out. First round picks like Zack Martin and Ronnie Stanley. Early-round selections like Chris Watt and Nick Martin. Promising All-American prospects like Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey.
But maybe a better illustration is the talent that is blocked from seeing the field. And rising junior Jimmy Byrne might be a perfect example of just how strong Harry Hiestand is recruiting the offensive line. Because an All-State offensive lineman from an Ohio powerhouse program that turned down Ohio State is a long, long way from seeing the field.
Entering his third year in South Bend, Byrne is still looking for an avenue to the playing field. And it’s a testament to the depth chart in front of him.
6’4″, 300 lbs.
Junior, No. 67, OL
Byrne committed to Notre Dame during the 2012 season though he didn’t sign until 2014, an early target and land by the Irish staff. His offer list was limited at that time but he he had already weighed an offer from Urban Meyer and Ohio State, and had other options like Illinois and Michigan State.
Byrne’s a St. Ignatius product, a school that’s sent players to both South Bend and Columbus. It was a very nice win for the Irish coaching staff, with Hiestand beating Ed Warinner for the interior offensive lineman.
Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action, preserving a year of eligibility.
Sophomore Season (2015): Did not see action.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
Byrne hasn’t been mentioned at center, which is probably a good thing because Sam Mustipher and Tristen Hoge are there for the foreseeable future.
Ultimately, makeup plays a big role in how an offensive lineman turns out. For every early contributor like Zack Martin or Steve Elmer, there’s a guy who finds his way into the lineup later in his career and thrives, a la Mike Golic. That’s the path Byrne is on—and frankly, that’s the more likely path for everybody on this offensive line, especially if Hiestand keeps cherrypicking elite talent.
Again, if I’m an offensive lineman at Notre Dame, I’m teaching myself to snap. Because after Nick Martin departs, it’ll be a wide open competition, with Sam Mustipher a converted center and Tristen Hoge the first true center the Irish have recruited under Kelly.
Byrne’s essentially the same guy that we were guessing on last year. He’s 10 pounds heavier, likely in a lot better shape, and still doing battle in one of the best depth charts we’ve seen along the offensive line in years.
Put Byrne in the category of “program player” for me. I haven’t seen enough of him to say whether or not he can be a starter. But Hiestand and the Irish haven’t swung and missed at linemen that have stayed in the program for their entire career all that often.
At this point, the road to the field could be dictated by guys like Quenton Nelson (how long does he stay in college?) and the battle at right guard. If the starting job goes to Hunter Bivin, maybe Byrne slides in behind him and turns into a potential one-year starter as a fifth-year guy. If it goes to someone younger? He’ll need an injury to hit or an unforeseen opportunity to arise.
It’s the offensive line. There are five jobs. It’ll be up to Byrne to put himself into a scenario where he’s got a chance to be the “next man in.”
I see a season of special teams duty for Byrne, an interior offensive lineman on long snaps and some time as a second-stringer or garbage time participant. One player to watch that could impact Byrne’s future is Tommy Kraemer. The Irish staff thinks they have a special player in Kraemer. They also really, really want to redshirt him if possible.
Byrne’s development at this point in his career doesn’t mean his fate is sealed when it comes to playing time. It should take well into a lineman’s career to earn snaps and starts. But it’s telling that the right guard job opened up and Byrne wasn’t all that close to competing for the gig.
It’s year seven of the Kelly era. Harry Hiestand has been recruiting like an ace, making limited offers and landing at a very very high rate. Byrne’s a victim of circumstance—getting a starting job on the O-line is one of the hardest to earn at Notre Dame. That means Byrne is going to have to show patience, all while working his way slowly up the ladder.