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Notre Dame Football

Position Outlook | Offensive Line

January 22, 2021
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Jeff Quinn has been often maligned by Notre Dame fans during his first two seasons, but those voices got quieter in 2020.

His group finished as a finalist for the Joe Moore Award. Liam Eichenberg and Aaron Banks both received All-American honors after the season. Even though late-season injuries hurt them, the line reached the lofty expectations that were attached to them prior to the season.

Congratulations to Quinn! His reward for a job well done is having to replace four of five starters for 2021.

Unfortunately, there is no door number two that’s going to magically help with losing Eichenberg, Banks, Robert Hainsey, and Tommy Kraemer. Even if Notre Dame looks for a temporary solution via the transfer portal, it won’t be an easy transition.

The good news is that Notre Dame has plenty of talent there to compete to replace those guys. It’s just young and inexperienced, which is typically a poor combination for a position that relies on chemistry and communication.

The first question this spring has to be who will replace Eichenberg at left tackle. With no obvious next guy to step in, there are a few ways this could go.

We can start with who’s returning. Tosh Baker has elite traits to be a fixture on the left side for the next three or four years. The question is whether or not he is ready now. He’s a massive and agile option.

He was a blue-chip recruit and so was the player listed behind Eichenberg on the depth chart this past season. Andrew Kristofic wasn’t the true second team LT, that was Banks, so it’s unknown if Quinn views him as the heir apparent. Also, is he a tackle or is he a guard? These are questions we don’t know because we never saw any of spring practice or fall camp last year.

There is a scenario where Baker and Kristofic are Notre Dame’s two starting tackles in 2021 and that’s intriguing to think about.

Could freshman Blake Fisher insert himself into the conversation? It’s a lot to ask, but he’s someone who should be physically ready to compete this spring as an early enrollee. Whether it’s at tackle or guard, Fisher is someone who is going to be expected to crack the two-deep this year.

The LT just might be the guy who was a backup there in 2018. That would be starting center Jarrett Patterson. He had a great year before a foot injury ended his season prematurely. While he’s the only returning starter, he might be the best guy to have back out of anyone because of his versatility. He could start at any position on the line this year and we’ll have to wait and see what approach Quinn takes with him.

The reason he can be moved around is because Zeke Correll looks like he’ll be a fixture at center. He handled himself well after Patterson went down, including playing most of the North Carolina game with a high ankle sprain. If he is penciled in at center, it gives Quinn the flexibility to plug a hole with Patterson.

The most experienced returning player after Patterson is fifth year senior Josh Lugg. He played better than expected at tackle late in the 2019 season, but didn’t look as good at center or right guard in 2020 when he had to fill in. His best position is probably right tackle, but I don’t know if that spot will be handed to him.

There’s Quinn Carroll, another former blue-chip recruit, who could make a push as well or the other three young tackles I mentioned who may be in the mix at LT. He was listed as the second team RT, but much like Kristofic, he wasn’t truly the next man in if Hainsey went down.

It gets really interesting at guard where Lugg is an option if he isn’t the right tackle and so is Dillan Gibbons if he’s back for a fifth year. Gibbons and Lugg both can get the job done as run blockers, but haven’t been great in pass protection. Gibbons' time in the program gives him an edge in the competition at guard, but both left and right guard should be wide open competitions.

John Dirksen has been on campus for a few years and has yet to make a mark. This is a “now or never” spring for him. Hunter Spears moved over from defensive tackle last year and we haven’t seen enough of him to know how much he’ll be in the mix.

The most intriguing options are Michael Carmody and freshman Rocco Spindler. Like Fisher, Spindler will be on campus as an early enrollee. Both are massive individuals with great potential. We’ll see if either are ready to play this fall.

There are so many different possibilities with the line in 2021 and the key for Quinn will be finding the best five. That may mean that one of the contenders at tackle starts at guard, which is what happened with Banks and Kraemer during their careers.

While it would be a surprise if freshmen like Joe Alt, Caleb Johnson, and Pat Coogan played in 2021, it’s on the table because there is nothing set at any spot other than knowing Patterson is going to start somewhere.

Baker, Correll, Carroll, Carmody, and Kristofic were all big time recruits. Fisher and Spindler were as well. There is a lot of great talent for Quinn to work with that he recruited in the last few cycles. He has to turn this group of mostly unproven players into a cohesive line.

There’s a lot of unknown as to how everyone will fit, but the potential is there for this to be another very good offensive line that can eventually grow into one of the best in college football.

 
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