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Notre Dame Football

Time is now for Correll, Lugg on Notre Dame OL

November 23, 2020

It certainly isn't how Notre Dame envisioned getting a glimpse at potential combinations for its offensive line, but it's the reality as the No. 2 Fighting Irish prepare for Saturday's game at No. 25 North Carolina.

On the heels of losing stalwarts Tommy Kraemer to an emergency appendectomy and Jarrett Patterson to foot surgery, Notre Dame (8-0, 7-0 ACC) is turning to proven reserve Josh Lugg in Kraemer's stead and former consensus four-star, top-100 prospect Zeke Correll at center.

“We’ve got a great deal of confidence in Zeke,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said during his Monday Zoom session with reporters. “Remember now, Zeke’s a highly recruited player for us. We’ve been waiting for him to get his opportunity, and he has been waiting, I guess more importantly, and he’s going to get that chance this weekend against North Carolina.

“Josh Lugg, as you know, played quite a bit of meaningful football for us last year at the tackle position and will move into that slot at right guard. He was our probably our sixth guy there. He’s ready to play and compete at a high level.”

With 32 career appearances, the 6-foot-6, 310-pound Lugg is more of a known quantity being reintroduced into the offensive front after manning right tackle through the final five games of the 2019 season, also then due to injuries. Lugg's athleticism helped key him to a top-25 national ranking from Pro Football Focus last season for his work in pass protection, not allowing a sack on 263 pass blocking sets.

Correll is considered the future of the Irish line's central nervous system, with Patterson a more natural guard who is expected next season to slot in at left guard for Notre Dame.

Additionally, the redshirt-freshman Correll is much stronger than a year ago and bigger, Kelly explains, courtesy of Correll's work with strength guru Matt Balis.

"I think we really liked everything about Zeke,” Kelly said. “He was 265 pounds (last year) and he was in the process of developing a coat of armor. Coach Balis was in the laboratory with him and got him up to close to 295 pounds.

“He's at 288 (Sunday) at the weigh-in. He's going to float in there between 285-290 (at North Carolina). Jarrett weighed 294 when we played last week.”

Correll brings his own traits to the center position, but he's also got plenty of help around him to help ease him into his first career start after five appearances in backup roles the past two seasons. Notre Dame's offensive line still has star tackles Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey on its left and right flanks, respectively, with powerful Aaron Banks still at left guard.

"He's at a position where he's nimble and quick and can snap the football,” Kelly said of the 6-3 Correll. “He's very smart and a really good pass protector. He's got a lot of film if you look at all the reps he got as a center going in the second half of games. We've gotten a chance to see him quite a bit and like what he's doing."

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