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Notre Dame Football

At the center of it all: Patterson key for Irish OL

November 5, 2020

There's the captain, Robert Hainsey, and the potential next great NFL offensive lineman, Liam Eichenberg.

There's nearly a combined 650 pounds in guards Aaron Banks and Tommy Kraemer.

Somewhat quietly, however, is the man in the middle of fourth-ranked Notre Dame's heralded offensive line: center Jarrett Patterson.

Except stats, beyond the Fighting Irish's gaudy rushing averages and time of possession, don't always show up for an offensive lineman, right?

Consider this: per Pro Football Focus, Patterson is the nation's second-highest graded center, 86.6, with at least 100 snaps behind only Alabama's Landon Dickerson.

Not bad for a guy who signed with the Irish in 2018 as a tackle.

“I think I've probably made substantial steps as far as just trusting the play and the play being called and the guys next to me,” said Patterson, a 6-foot-4.5-inch, 305-pound former four-star prospect. “I think the biggest improvements I've made are in the run game and getting vertical movement, especially against three-down defenses.

“For me, that's where I think I've done the best this season compared to last.”

Patterson & Co. up front take centerstage this week when top-ranked Clemson visits Notre Dame Stadium in the ACC's first-ever matchup featuring two members ranked 1 and 4.

The Fighting Irish (6-0, 5-0 ACC) lean on teams with an offensive line boasting nearly 140 combined career starts, a dual-purpose quarterback in Ian Book and a three-pronged rushing attack featuring Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree with the complementary work of C'Bo Flemister.

The Tigers (7-0, 6-0) have been adjusting to life with a bunch of new defensive starters after losing multiple players to the NFL Draft. Clemson allows just 99.9 rushing yards per game; Notre Dame averages 231.

The Irish also are finishing games on the ground with Patterson at the controls, converting more than 54 percent of their third-downs and welcoming each and every opportunity to flex their collective muscles on third-and-short situations.

That's no accident.

“As soon as Coach (Tommy) Rees got the job of offensive coordinator, our first meeting early in spring, that was something he really harped on, being 100% on third-and-short,” Patterson said. “Quite frankly, we weren't up to that standard last year at all. We weren't even close. So that's one thing we talk a lot of pride in, especially knowing that in a game, third-and-3, third-and-4, Louisville with that third-and-5, coaches have that trust in us. That really means a lot to us.”

Book and Patterson are working even more closely than a year ago, the early stages of Patterson's total transition from edge protector to key cog in the offense's central nervous system.

“I've taken on a little bit more this year, especially ID'ing three-down, four-down (fronts), where the Mike (linebacker) is,” Patterson said. “Ian still has a lot of charge of that, and Coach Rees prefers it like that because he can see the secondary and the safety rotation and things like that. But if he asks me, 'Hey, should we be in this protection?' I'll tell him, 'Yeah we should,' or, 'No, we should check out of it into something else.' Coaches have put more trust in me in that and I definitely appreciate it.”

Those surrounding the Irish offensive line appreciate them. Kelly calls it a unit quite unlike any in his 30 years of coaching; Williams admits the running backs discuss rewarding the line's efforts by helping the unit earn a game ball.

Patterson says simply it's about trust from all involved.

“I think just trusting the guy next to us,” Patterson said. “On a certain play, if they're bringing a certain pressure, knowing that the guy behind me, next to me, is going to be there for me. To look out for me. I think that's just really what it came down to.

“We understand our communication and we do a great job of just seeing everything through one set of eyes.”


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