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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Position Battles | Offensive Line

June 25, 2020
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There might not be any team in college football that has the experience returning that Notre Dame has on the offensive line this year. All five starters return up front for the Irish.

Two are entering their fourth season as starters. Two are entering their third season as starters. One is going into his second season and they also have a sixth player who gained valuable experience starting down the home stretch of last season.

There’s no excuses for this line not to be great other than health and that’s because the depth behind them hasn’t played at all. The second group has potential, but a lot of questions heading into the fall.

Left tackle

Liam Eichenberg took a very positive step in his second season as Notre Dame’s starting left tackle. It helped that he didn’t have to face the same level of pass rushers that he saw in 2018, but regardless of that, he was better in just about every area of his game.

He handled quick lateral movement much better in pass protection and was much more consistent as a run blocker. It’s not hard to see why he could end up being a high pick in next year’s NFL Draft if he continues to improve and plays well against a great group of defensive ends he’ll see this fall.

Who his backup is will be is the important question at left tackle. Andrew Kristofic and freshman Tosh Baker should battle for that job.

Kristofic really struggled last spring as an early enrollee against Notre Dame’s edge rushers, but he has the feet and athleticism to be great. We’ll see how much he has developed over the last year when he gets back onto the field. The spring would have really helped him.

Baker has all of the tools to be the next great left tackle for the Irish. His balance and length are exceptional. Physical development is going to be huge for him as well as the mental side of the position in college. A four-game redshirt seems likely, but he might push to be the next man in at left tackle.

Guard

I grouped these together rather than right and left because the backups could be interchangeable.

Aaron Banks is back at left guard and after a strong debut in the second half of 2018, he didn’t play up to the same standard last season. Injuries played a part and him coming into the season off of a broken foot didn’t help.

He never seemed to be in great condition and didn’t make the expected leap many thought he would. If he wants to leave after this season, he has the option for a fifth year, he has to be much better. The talent is there for him to be one of the best guards in college football when he’s healthy.

Tommy Kraemer’s season ended early, but before that he was playing his best football. At times he mauls people in the run game and he has improved his anchoring in pass protection. Expectations are and should be high for him in 2020.

Josh Lugg would be the next player in at guard if either of these guys go down. It’s the same for him at right tackle where he filled in admirably after Robert Hainsey was injured.

There’s still times where he is not the most agile laterally and he’s not the best athlete up front, but he has learned to play to his strengths and is a valuable sixth man for the Irish.

Dillan Gibbons has had problems staying healthy and despite entering his fourth year, he hasn’t seen snaps other than in garbage time. Trevor Ruhland was the same heading into his fourth year and he ended up being a valuable contributor despite his limitations.

We’ll see if Gibbons can follow that path and hopefully stay healthy. He certainly has proven to be a nasty presence as a run blocker in practices.

This is a big year for John Dirksen to establish himself as a potential starter in 2021. He came from a low level of football in Ohio, but has always had an NFL frame. If he takes a big step this season, then Notre Dame can feel comfortable about the depth at guard.

John Olmstead appeared to be a bit overwhelmed in his first year in the program. That has happened to others before and they managed to have solid careers in blue and gold.

That typically doesn’t happen if they don’t make major improvements in year two, though. Now’s the time for him to show he is capable of competing at this level.

Center

Jarrett Patterson looked like a first year starter for most of 2019 in terms of consistency, but he also had stretches where he played really well. It’s a tough transition for anyone to move to center from left tackle so considering the circumstances, he handled himself well.

More will be expected this season and it would be surprising if he didn’t play really well.

The big thing for Zeke Correll was to add weight after coming in light as a freshman. He did that and we were going to get to see how he looked carrying more on him, but spring ball was cut short.

It might be too much to ask him to push Patterson this season, but as long as Correll shows he is physically ready to handle bigger bodies inside, it could push Patterson out to guard or tackle in 2021.

Right tackle

Robert Hainsey is going to be a four-year starter and he has made improvements every year. Last year he was playing well before being lost for the season against Virginia Tech. He handled speed rushers much better and him and Kraemer worked very well together in the run game.

He can anchor better against the bull rush as he gave up too much ground to close the pocket on Ian Book last season. If he does that, then there won’t be much to pick apart with his game.

Quinn Carroll is coming off a knee injury, but the future appears bright for him. If he’s 100% healthy, he could be the third tackle and possibly the next guard after Lugg. He was the most ready out of all the freshman offensive linemen last season and could be on his way to be a multi-year starter.

Michael Carmody is already big and is going to be a massive young man. Whether he’s at tackle or guard, he has the mentality to be a dominating run blocker. He needs some time to refine his footwork and hand placement in pass protection, but he’ll get that as a likely redshirt. 

 
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