2018 Notre Dame football redshirt projections: Offensive Line
Most of the eyes throughout the upcoming Notre Dame football season will be laser-focused on Fighting Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush. However, lost in the obvious will be whether or not the revamped Irish offensive line allows the redshirt junior thrower to have the security to play well.
“There will be a lot of cross-training across the board,” veteran Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said this spring of the offensive line, “with, obviously, Tommy Kraemer, Josh Lugg, I think you’re going to see those guys cross training. I think it’s going to be an extremely competitive situation, one that I’m kind of looking forward to because there’s probably four or five different combinations that we could run out there at the offensive line.”
The group was honored as the nation’s best last season, but the two stalwarts (Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson) have both departed for the NFL.
However, the Irish do return a great deal of talent and depth, even if some of those athletes could (and probably will be) in new and more significant roles. Returning athletes such as Liam Eichenberg, Alex Bars, Lugg, Kraemer, Robert Hainsey, Trevor Ruhland, Colin Grunhard, and Sam Mustipher will be joined by newcomers Aaron Banks, Jarrett Patterson, Luke Jones, Cole Mabry, Dillan Gibbons, and John Dirksen.
“I think there are some more moving pieces there,” Kelly said, “but, man, when you have Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars, that’s pretty good right there. And experience with Kraemer and Hainsey, it’s not a worry of mine by any means. But I’ll be involved in a lot of conversations about who is going to be on the right side, who is going to be on the left side, (and) cross training.”
For the first time, programs can play a student-athlete in up to four games, yet still have him maintain eligibility for four more seasons. So there are players that will perform to a level that the Notre Dame coaches believe can help all season, while they will have to juggle who to rein in and keep eligible for four seasons down the road.
News-Sentinel.com is going to take a look at each of the position groups and the freshmen student-athletes and project the level of impact for the coming season.
Today: Offensive Line
Monday: Wide Receivers
Patterson was an Arizona State commit that flipped to Notre Dame upon a coaching change with the Sun Devils. It was a hurried recruiting process that Irish special teams coach and recruiting coordinator Brian Polian orchestrated along with newly-hired offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, but in the end, Notre Dame got their guy.
“Jeff Quinn, I thought, did a great job getting out there and making sure that (offensive line prospect) Luke Jones stayed in the fold, and obviously the Patterson situation, which I was involved with personally, was a little bit odd because we offered him just as the news that (former Irish offensive line coach Harry Heistand) was leaving broke,” Polian said. “So you would think that as that was going down that the odds would be against you, and Jeff stepped in and really did a nice job towards the end.”
Patterson is a 6-foot-5, 275-pound athlete that will get evaluated at a number of spots, but is projected to back-up Eichenberg and Banks at left tackle. However, every position (aside from Mustipher at center) is fluid to a degree.
Projection: I could see Patterson getting some reps this season under certain circumstances (injuries and routs), but in the end, I believe that he will redshirt.
Like Patterson, Jones was set to go elsewhere (Arkansas) until a coaching change had him reevaluate his situation.
The first thing that Quinn did upon being hired was fly to Arkansas and meet with Jones and his family.
“Often real people make a difference late,” Kelly said on the late hiring of Quinn and safeties coach Terry Joseph. “If you’re shallow and are not presenting yourself as genuine and authentic, you’re going to get squeezed out late in this process. You don’t get them all. Sometimes it’s out of your control individually. But both those individuals are great fits at Notre Dame because they know what we’re recruiting and why we’re doing it.”
Jones is a 6-foot-6, 285-pound athlete that is projected to provide depth at center behind Mustipher, Ruhland and Grunhard.
Projection: Unless Jones moves to another position (which is possible because every reserve player could be moved at some point), it is very unlikely that he’ll play much if at all this season.
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) July 29, 2018
Dirksen was a less-heralded recruit from a smaller Ohio program, but that doesn’t mean that the Irish coaches aren’t high on him.
“I think Mabry and Dirksen in terms of their length and their size,” Polian said of the two young offensive linemen being underrated. “These are going to be really big men that can move their feet.
“We often, on the offensive line, say ‘Boy, he weighs 270 right now, is he going to get big enough?’ We have a great strength staff (and) the world is filled with big guys. Big and can move their feet and bend and athleticism. You recruit that and hand them over to (Notre Dame strength coach Matt Balis) and his staff and let nature take its course.”
Dirksen is 6-foot-5 and already over 300 pounds. He is projected to back-up Kraemer and Gibbons at right guard.
Projection: I could see Dirksen getting some reps this fall, but aside from injuries I would assume that he will redshirt this season.
Mabry (6-foot-5, 275 pounds) isn’t as big as Dirksen but as Polian alluded, he is anxious to see him work.
“I think those guys are exciting,” Polian said of Dirksen and Mabry on National Signing Day.
Mabry is penciled in to back up Hainsey and Kraemer at right tackle.
“We know that we have two guys in Kraemer and Hainsey that can play right tackle,” Kelly said this spring. “I think that we are still fluid as to what the combinations are right now.”
Projection: I could see Mabry getting some reps this season, but not enough to negate a redshirt season. He will need more time and strength work before he is a regular in the rotation.
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