Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 75 Josh Lugg, fifth-year right tackle, finally a starter

Josh Lugg
Notre Dame Athletics
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-6 ⅞, 310 pounds.
2021-22 year, eligibility: A fifth-year veteran, Lugg has two seasons of eligibility remaining thanks to the universal pandemic waiver.
Depth Chart: After a winter of consternation about Lugg’s future, he now looks like the probable starter at right tackle this season.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star prospect and the No. 22 tackle prospect in the country, per rivals.com, Lugg had plenty of options to consider as Notre Dame went 4-8 in 2016, holding offers from Alabama, Michigan State and Ohio State, among others. Instead, the U.S. Army All-American stuck to his commitment from before the 2015 season. In other words, this coming fall will be the seventh season Lugg has been tied to the Irish in some capacity.

CAREER TO DATE
Lugg has appeared in 37 career games for Notre Dame, starting eight of them, including three toward the end of last season.

Lugg started at right guard in place of Tommy Kraemer (emergency appendectomy) at North Carolina before sliding to center for two games as the Irish debated if Lugg or Zeke Correll was the better option at the fulcrum for the season’s conclusion. After Lugg did not change the dynamics in the ACC championship game, Correll got the nod in the College Football Playoff semifinal.

In 2019, Lugg’s five games as a starter came after right tackle Robert Hainsey suffered a season-ending injury.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, we might need a thesis to discuss these two gems of Lugg (right), Liam Eichenberg (middle) and former Irish offensive lineman Cole Mabry.

QUOTE
Lugg stepping in as the sixth offensive lineman the last two seasons confirmed something outsiders assumed: He was only held back by the talent in front of him. While some players not getting snaps seek more playing time elsewhere because they cannot see a path to it at Notre Dame, Lugg had tangible evidence he simply needed to wait and he would get a crack at it. Those five other Irish linemen knew as much as well.

“We have four guys [entering the NFL] this year,” Eichenberg said in March. “He’s been behind them and me at times. It’s just allowed him to develop even more. This is his opportunity now. He will start on the offensive line this year, there’s no doubt about that. He’s going to do very well, he’s going to be very successful. He’s a guy who understands his technique and fundamentals.

“I’m very excited for him, a guy who stuck it out, who would do anything and sacrifice anything for an offensive line, that’s the type of guy you’re getting.”

The sixth lineman role sent Lugg to center, right guard and right tackle. In becoming one of the top-five linemen, Notre Dame needed to find a more defined role for Lugg. He started the spring at tackle, but with expectations of moving to guard once senior Jarrett Patterson returned from a foot injury in the preseason. By the end of spring practice, Irish head coach Brian Kelly expected Lugg to remain at tackle long-term, particularly since some weight loss has helped his persistent back issues.

“He feels most comfortable at the tackle position,” Kelly said. “That’s where we have settled in our mind, as well, because of where we think the other pieces — this was always going to be how the other pieces were going to fall in line to see what the ultimate position was going to end up being for Josh.”

Kelly said that, but there is at least some validity to Lugg’s comfort level at tackle, as well as his past experience there. His tackle play to end 2019 was arguably better than his guard play in 2020.

Patterson’s return was expected to send Lugg to guard, not vice versa. The emergence of early-enrolled freshmen Blake Fisher and Rocco Spindler did not necessarily change that order of operations. Lugg’s play did.

WHAT WAS SAID TWO YEARS AGO
“The benefit to Lugg of that multi-use tool nature is he will have a chance to impress at some point. Do well enough and a position competition could be on the horizon. No one wants to earn a starting gig via injury, but it can be argued that is personally better than never earning a starting gig at all.

“If, however, Notre Dame enjoys unprecedented health along the offensive line the next two seasons, Lugg would still have one more year of eligibility in 2021 after senior left tackle Liam Eichenberg, Kraemer and Hainsey have all used up theirs.”

2021 OUTLOOK
Lugg at tackle is a best-case scenario for him, and as much as Lugg has been a team-first player by stepping in wherever and whenever needed, by waiting his turn, he obviously hopes for some version of a best-case scenario for himself at some point.

“Being able to move and get my hands on you, use my length outside, and also be able to communicate my defense to the rest of the offensive line,” Lugg said when asked why he was most comfortable at tackle, basically describing everything about the position in granular detail.

His length is hard to overstate. Both to once again give a better idea of who a player is off the field and to use real-life context to illustrate Lugg’s size (football players standing next to other large football players often downplays the reality of their stature), compare Lugg to this boat.

More than big, Lugg is long. Losing 30 pounds between November and February (321 to 291) with intentions of putting 15-20 of it back on as healthier weight, Lugg should be only more mobile in 2021.

Despite being a career backup, the Irish know what they have at right tackle in Lugg, a top-line player, if not quite elite. Presuming that weight loss protects his back, Lugg should make the most of his long-awaited time to shine.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s offensive line comes into focus thanks to early-enrolled duo and a fifth-year utility man

DOWN THE ROAD
Here is a moment where perhaps the universal eligibility waiver during the pandemic could come into play. Lugg will have only so much film to show NFL front offices after this season. While it could be good enough to make him an NFL prospect already, it is more likely a second year of film could be useful.

Notre Dame would have to have roster space, and that math is going to be a challenge simply because it is unprecedented, but a proven and talented starter at tackle is the type of building block to make an exception for.

Otherwise, a healthy 2021 and Lugg’s length alone should make him worthy of a flyer by a front office at the next level.

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
No. 79 Tosh Baker, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 78 Pat Coogan, incoming freshman center
No. 77 Quinn Carroll, junior offensive lineman
No. 76 Joe Alt, incoming and towering freshman offensive lineman