2018 Notre Dame Football Position and Prospect Analysis: Offensive line
SOUTH BEND – Much of the success of Notre Dame’s rebounding 10-win season in 2017 rested on the strength and cohesiveness of the Fighting Irish offensive line, which ultimately earned the coveted Joe Moore Award for being the nation’s best unit.
The two main pieces of that line (left guard Quenton Nelson and left tackle Mike McGlinchey) both left for the NFL, but the Irish do have depth returning to fill those holes.
News-Sentinel.com sports reporter Tom Davis has been writing on Notre Dame football for nearly two decades and will take a look at the various position groups for next season and how the incoming class of prospects could impact the success of the Fighting Irish.
Today’s position: Offensive line
Coming next: Defensive line
John Dirksen, Cole Mabry, Jarrett Patterson, Luke Jones
It often isn’t easy to earn playing time immediately along the Irish line and that certainly will be the case next season. However, with Notre Dame having a new position coach in Jeff Quinn, who made a late recruiting pitch for both Patterson and Jones, he will keep an open mind and give every one a fresh look and evaluation heading into 2018.
“You’ve got to find the best five (players),” Quinn told News-Sentinel.com last month. “I’ve said it many times, if your best five are all tackles, then two of them are going to have to play guard and one is going to have to play center.
“That is the fair way to approach it and I think the players in the room respect that.”
A year ago, true freshman Robert Hainsey got some experience by playing in 13 games, including one start. That will be difficult for the four newcomers to match, but Patterson and/or Jones have the potential to see some snaps.
Notre Dame returns not just Hainsey, but also starting center Sam Mustipher and right guard Alex Bars, both seniors, as well as redshirt sophomore Tommy Kraemer.
Redshirt sophomore Liam Eichenberg will get an opportunity to contribute this year, as will redshirt freshmen Josh Lugg, Aaron Banks and Dillan Gibbons after redshirting in 2017.
Mabry may be considered a bit of a project, but he has nice size (6-foot-5, 275 pounds) and athleticism. The Tennessee native was on the radar of second-year offensive line coach Chip Long, who coached at Memphis prior to his coming to Notre Dame a year ago.
“Chip has the ability to identify who he is looking for and then cast a net and go to work,” Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly said on National Signing Day in December. “(Long and then-defensive coordinator Mike Elko) are the two new coordinators, so there is going to be a lot of questions about them and rightly so. You don’t know a lot about them, but that was their reputation coming here as well.
“That’s part of the questions that I would ask in the interviewing process. These guys are good recruiters, they were good recruiters before they got here, and they work really hard at it in this process.”
Both Patterson and and Jones were committed to other programs (Arizona State and Arkansas, respectively) before coaching changes at those schools resulted in them flipping to the Irish.
Despite the hurried recruiting process, Long felt that Patterson was the type of student-athlete that Notre Dame was looking for to “fit” into the university, as much as the football program.
“Jarrett was a good fit when he came on his visit,” Long said. “He really meshed well with our players. Fit for me is just as important to me as anything here at Notre Dame. To have the ability to survive here is as big of criteria as we have in our evaluations.”
For more on college football, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.