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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-6 1/8, 303 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Junior with three seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: Eichenberg will start at left tackle.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit, rivals.com listed Eichenberg as the No.11 tackle in the country and the No. 6 recruit in Ohio. The Under Armour All-American spurned offers from Michigan, Ohio State and Florida State, among many others, to commit to Notre Dame.

CAREER TO DATE
Eichenberg preserved a year of eligibility in 2016, along with classmate Tommy Kraemer. The expectation was the two would compete for starting right tackle duties in 2017, but then early-enrollee Robert Hainsey leapfrogged past Eichenberg, relegating him to mop-up work in five Irish blowouts last year.

QUOTE(S)
The spring began with Eichenberg somewhat an afterthought at left tackle, more likely to emerge on the exact opposite end of the line. When he finally started working with the first-unit at left tackle, in only the last couple weeks of spring practice, it had as much to do with mental progression as any physical developments.

“Liam Eichenberg coming on this spring has been huge,” Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long said in mid-April. “He’s just getting more and more confident every day. He’s a young guy, so he’s going to make some mistakes, but he’s finally turning it loose and playing hard, not thinking all the time.”

In the view of Irish head coach Brian Kelly, Eichenberg was not thinking as much because he had found the self-assurance needed to trust his instincts.

“It’s been more mental than anything else,” Kelly said two days after Long’s comments. “[Eichenberg’s] ability to settle down. He was a little bit — I wouldn’t say not confident, but you could see he didn’t play with the kind of confidence that he needed to. Emotionally, he’s in his comfort level and his zone now.

“He would jump offsides easily, miss an assignment easily. I think that’s maturity. ‘It’s my time now, and I’m ready for it.’ I think a lot of it is mental [more] than physical.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“In some respects, spending 2017 as a backup could bode better for Eichenberg’s long-term career. Fifth-year captain Mike McGlinchey will not be Notre Dame’s left tackle in 2018. If Eichenberg spent this season readying for that role, it could be his while Kraemer remains — hypothetically — at right tackle.

“It is not to say one position is more important than the other, but the NFL does pay left tackles much better than right tackles.

“Either Eichenberg or Kraemer will start at right tackle this year. One or the other will have first crack at starting at left tackle in 2018.”

2018 OUTLOOK
In the most round-about way, that 2017 projection could not have been much more accurate. Looking forward now starts with looking back at the spring and considering the circuitous route needed to get Eichenberg to starting at left tackle.

The expectation entering spring was for Hainsey to end up at left tackle, with either Kraemer or Eichenberg taking over right tackle duties. That alignment was seen frequently in March, but then Eichenberg apparently inspired enough confidence in the coaching staff to place him at left tackle and keep Hainsey — with a season already spent at right tackle, not to mention shorter arm reach — at his initial position.

Eichenberg’s strong performance also allowed Kraemer to move inward to guard, where his skillset fits better, rather than have to keep working at tackle while Eichenberg found his groove.

Thus, if Eichenberg can be successful at left tackle when it counts, even if he is not stellar, just sustainably good, then he will have also improved two other offensive line positions. There is no statistic to track that kind of domino effect, but it illustrates how much may actually hinge on Eichenberg holding his own in the fall.

DOWN THE ROAD
Eichenberg’s size and feet will continue to get him chances to be one of the starting five offensive linemen, even if 2018 goes awry. However, there is little reason to think it will. A sophomore jumping offsides or missing an assignment should not condemn a career. If anything, it should underscore how rare Hainsey’s debut campaign truly was.

If Eichenberg has indeed grown into this role, the left tackle honors should be his for the next three seasons. Obviously, being the starting left tackle at Notre Dame has come to carry great expectations. Eichenberg may not match that standard in 2018 — McGlinchey was the No. 9 overall pick in the NFL draft, after all — but he should come within a respectable distance of it in 2019 and, if he so chooses, 2020.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 90 (theoretically) Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman
No. 79 (theoretically) Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 77 (theoretically) Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer