Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 79 Tosh Baker, sophomore offensive tackle

Tosh Baker
Notre Dame Athletics
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-7, 283 pounds.
2021-22 year, eligibility: The sophomore has all four seasons of eligibility remaining thanks to playing in only two games last year, not to mention the universal pandemic waiver.
Depth Chart: Based on all the footage and comments from this spring, Baker will either start at left tackle or back up early-enrolled freshman Blake Fisher. Assessing that competition will be one of the most intriguing plots of preseason practices.
Recruiting: The consensus four-star and All-American could have gone to Alabama, Michigan or Ohio State, or just about anywhere else that might be interested in the No. 5 offensive tackle in the class of 2020. At least, that was Baker’s ranking, per rivals.com, when he signed with Notre Dame during the early signing period in December. By the time the recruiting cycle had entirely wrapped up, though, Baker had fallen to No. 13 among offensive tackles, an example of the oddities to recruiting. Two or three years of evaluation can somehow be quickly outshined by the final six weeks of the process.

CAREER TO DATE
Baker appeared in the Irish blowouts of South Florida and Syracuse in 2020.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
All the hype Notre Dame’s national billboard campaign received, there is one obvious bit to it that has not been acknowledged enough … How cool would it be as a 19-year-old to see yourself towering over the major metropolis known as your home?

QUOTE
An example of the (understandable) loss of any media viewing in the preseason and then this spring is Baker’s apparent ascension seems to have come from nowhere when, in reality, it was likely gradual and encouraging growth throughout the last year. If anyone should have an idea of that progress, it would be former Irish left tackle Liam Eichenberg.

“[Baker] has a great mindset,” Eichenberg said at the end of March. “He works hard. I think for him, it’s just about getting strong in the offseason. He put in a lot of work this winter, so I’m excited to see how he looks. …

“It’s just strength for him. He moves well, is good with his hands, understands the playbook. It’s just going to be developing his overall strength. When he gets that, I think he’ll be a great player for Notre Dame.”

Junior center Zeke Correll sees the same potential in Baker that Eichenberg does, though for a reason more obvious than the potential provided by coming strength.

“[Baker and Fisher] are two really good tackles,” Correll said in April. “They have a lot of growth, especially Tosh with his length, being — I don’t know — 6-8. He has long arms, too, so he’s been able to use that a lot. He’s going to be one of the good tackles.”

Not to get dramatic, but when Correll says “one of the good tackles,” he is implying Baker might fit into a lineage that extends without interruption back to Zack Martin.

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN BAKER SIGNED
“Aside from being young and not entirely developed, there might not be genuine holes to point out in Baker’s game. He is better as a pass blocker than in the run game, but he does not exactly fail in the latter. His length is supplemented by quick feet, allowing him to handle either power or speed rushers off the edge.

“Baker needs to put on a lot of muscle before he is ready to be a full-time starter at left tackle, but the chance will be awaiting him in 2021. The other contenders to fill in for Liam Eichenberg are current sophomore Cole Mabry and current freshmen Kristofic and Quinn Carroll. Aside from the added time in the program, none of them have anything on Baker, to put it simply.”

2021 OUTLOOK
When spring practices began, Baker was a nominal starter, per Irish head coach Brian Kelly. By the Blue-Gold Game, Fisher was the presumptive starter with Baker still in competition.

With absolutely no offense intended toward Fisher, it remains hard to believe Kelly will start a freshman on Labor Day Eve (110 days). Notre Dame has not started a freshman offensive lineman in its season opener since 2006 (Sam Young). Maybe Fisher changes that. Maybe early-enrolled freshman guard Rocco Spindler does. The latter is more likely, and both would be quite the exception snapping what has been a hard and fast rule.

That keeps Baker as the likely starter at Florida State, despite the progressions of spring practices.

Which is to say, the Irish have confidence in him. Kelly would not have leaned into moving fifth-year Josh Lugg to right tackle and the possibility of senior Jarrett Patterson landing at right guard rather than tackle if Kelly was not comfortable with these left-side thoughts. Those springtime moves were not necessarily final, but every indication suggested they will become such. Either Baker or Fisher will take over that left-tackle tradition.

DOWN THE ROAD
If Fisher proves wrong these doubts based on precedent, that is not a doomsday for Baker’s career at Notre Dame. If any school has proven it will develop offensive linemen, it is Notre Dame, meaning Baker has plenty of reason to be patient waiting for playing time. If he gets a chance to crack the Irish starting lineup, that is as good as a chance at hearing his name in the NFL draft.

Not to mention, Baker’s primary need all along has been work in a collegiate strength and conditioning program. This summer should provide his first real chance at that. Impatience before letting that work pay dividends would be foolish.

While Lugg has two years of eligibility remaining thanks to the universal waiver, it would be a surprise to see him return to South Bend in 2022. A season starting at right guard should allow the career utility man enough work to garner the attention of NFL front offices, as an undrafted free agent if not a draft pick.

That will open up the right guard duties, presuming this spring’s closing alignments hold up, for Baker to chase after in 2022 (if he’s not at left tackle all along). He will have competition from junior Andrew Kristofic, sophomore Michael Carmody and perhaps early-enrolled freshman Caleb Johnson, but Baker’s ascension this spring gives him a leg up on them, at the absolute least.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
Let’s try this again
No. 99 Rylie Mills, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 98 Alexander Ehrensberger, sophomore defensive end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, early-enrolled freshman defensive tackle the size of a Volkswagen
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, fifth-year defensive tackle-turned-end
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, early-enrolled freshman tight end, a former high school quarterback
No. 87 Michael Mayer, star sophomore tight end and lead offensive weapon
No. 85 George Takacs, senior tight end, ‘152 years old’
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, sophomore tight end
No. 82 Xavier Watts, sophomore receiver
No. 81 Jay Brunelle, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 80 Cane Berrong, early-enrolled freshman tight end