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Liam Eichenberg is growing into the final piece of Notre Dame’s offensive line puzzle

Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly argues a call during the first half of a game last season in South Bend against North Carolina State. (By The Associated Press)
2018 Notre Dame redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg

There aren’t very many people that are going to feel sorry for the Notre Dame offense following the departure of two of the best offensive linemen (Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey) in the entire country.

After all, the cupboard isn’t exactly bare for the Fighting Irish, as they move into the 2018 season.

“I think there are some more moving pieces there,” veteran Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said this spring, “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.”

Mustipher and Bars are each team captains for the 2018 season and started all 13 games a season ago.

Tommy Kraemer will be a redshirt sophomore this fall and started 12 games last season, while sophomore Robert Hainsey started the bowl game in place of Kraemer, and played in all 13 games.

“It’s not a worry of mine,” Kelly continued. “I think we’re going to put five really good players out there when we run out of that tunnel.”

So who exactly will that fifth guy be? More than likely it will be redshirt sophomore Liam Eichenberg, which is fine with Kelly.

“We need to see a bigger body guy out there at that left tackle position,” Kelly said, “and Liam gives us that size and strength.”

Kelly had looked at Hainsey at the critical left tackle spot, mostly due to his “outstanding technique.” However, Eichenberg is bigger (6-foot-6, 303 pounds) than Hainsey (6-foot-5, 291 pounds) and that is an asset.

“What we really like about Liam is his strength, his size, and his physicality,” Kelly said later in the spring. “He’s learning.”

Eichenberg played in five mid-season games during his redshirt freshman season a year ago, but he continues to need to grow in the nuances of line play. To help in that regard, Kelly and new offensive line coach Jeff Quinn moved the experienced Bars to left guard to play next to Eichenberg which should help him in a multitude of ways.

“Why not move a veteran next to him where he can communicate with him,” Kelly pondered, “help him to pass off twists, give him some cues prior to the snap, and settle him into a confident and really a consistent basis.”

Building Eichenberg’s confidence is critical and with Michigan coming to South Bend for the season-opener (Sept. 1), there isn’t a great deal of time to do so. However, Kelly saw growth throughout the spring from the young lineman, which should continue in training camp, which opens later this week.

“It’s been more mental more than anything,” Kelly said of Eichenberg’s evolvement. “His ability to settle down, you could see that he didn’t play (early on) with the kind of confidence that he needed to.

“Emotionally, he’s in his comfort level and zone now. He would jump off-sides easily or miss an assignment easily. I think that is maturity. I think that he feels it is his time now and he’s ready for it.”

With Eichenberg and Bars holding down the left side to protect the Notre Dame quarterback (whoever that may end up being), Mustipher can remain a fixture at center and Kraemer (guard) and Hainsey (tackle) can balance the line on the right side.

“I just like his size (and) his reach,” Kelly said of Eichenberg. “He can stand up to the different pass rushes that we are going to get out there, the bull rush, and he’s long enough to help off the edge.

“I think all in all, we’ve liked him at the left tackle. Nothing is really going to change our mind in terms of moving him to right tackle. (Eichenberg) is just a good back-side setter and can do the job that we are looking for.”

For more on Notre Dame football, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010, Facebook at Thomas Davis, and Instagram at tomdavis101010.

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