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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Spring Football Means New Opportunities

March 27, 2021

Notre Dame started spring practice on Saturday morning and it officially marked a new era for the Fighting Irish. 

Liam Eichenberg, Robert Hainsey, Tommy Kraemer and Aaron Banks are gone. It's time for Jeff Quinn and the offense to flip the page to the next chapter of Notre Dame's offensive line history. 

The tradition of great offensive line play is something that has surrounded the program for years and the 2020 team might have been one of the best. It's a tall task to replace four starters, but it's one the Irish are looking to embrace over making excuses. 

"We have a plan, right," stated head coach Brian Kelly following practice. "As you know, since I've been here, we've always lost really good players and it's my job and our coaches job to replace them and maintain the standard of excellence we've had around here. Being in the College Football Playoffs two of the last three years doesn't give you a pass in saying we lost all these players. All that means is that is the expectation." 

In looking way too deep into Kelly's comments and some practice video the program released, the first-team offensive line on day one looked to be Tosh Baker (LT), Dillan Gibbons (LG), Zeke Correll (C), John Dirksen (RG) and Josh Lugg (RT). 

Jarrett Patterson will be the unit leader, but the California native will miss the spring as he recovers from foot surgery. 

Lugg will work at tackle this spring, but Kelly hinted you could see the 6-foot-7, 310-pounder move inside this fall. 

"We have to get these guys ready," explained Kelly. "A couple guys we know, like Zeke (Correll), is slotted in at that center position. Josh Lugg is going to play a tackle, but most likely, he'll slide back into the guard position when the season starts. 

"You're going to see a big battle for one of the tackle positions and one of the guard positions. You're going to see a little bit of everybody."

Redshirt freshman Tosh Baker and early enrollee Blake Fisher worked at left tackle on Saturday, but Patterson could also slide over if one doesn't win the job.

One interesting piece from the video Notre Dame released was Andrew Kristofic was working at center. Now, Patterson is the returning starter and developing another center is a priority, but Kristofic’s name hadn’t been mentioned too much at the position in previous years.

"Tosh Baker, we saw him starting in one of our units today," Kelly said. "Dillan Gibbons was starting. John Dirksen was starting. We really like the progress of (Michael) Carmody. I've mentioned (Andrew) Kristofic. The young freshmen - both of the young freshmen linemen that are mid-years got a chance to step in with the second group. 

"Everybody is going to get into the mix. We have a plan of how this should look. Quinn Carroll is another guy that's had a really good offseason. There's a lot of names and we have to sort it out as it goes." 

On defense, the Rover position will have significant interest from Notre Dame fans for several reasons. 

How will new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman utilize it? Who replaces Butkus Award winner Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah? Who could move to Rover? 

Kelly didn't elaborate too much after one practice, but there's a good chance multiple players will be used at the position. 

"We're going to do things to get another linebacker on the field," stated Kelly. "I don't know that we're replacing the kind of player we had with Owusu-Koramoah. You're going to see a combination of players out there. 

"If we're in strictly a Rover situation, you'll see (Isaiah) Pryor. You'll see (Paul) Moala and you'll see (Jack) Kiser out there. At times you might even see three linebackers. I think it's a combination of all those things." 

Notre Dame will also need players to step up at receiver and cornerback. The talent is there, but the next 14 practices will provide the opportunity for guys to separate themselves.

It's also worth noting Notre Dame's most productive players at receiver and cornerback weren't in the mix last spring. 

We even had three guys that weren't even part of the mix here last spring," said Kelly. "When you talk about (Javon) McKinley and Ben (Skowronek) and Nick (McCloud), we didn't have any expectations that they'd even be on the field for us. So, here we are another year later and Clarence Lewis has gotten great work last year. We know what a guy like Avery (Davis) can do. We know what a guy like (Michael) Mayer could do. I would argue that we have probably more known commodities coming back this year than maybe we did going into last season and that kind of sorted itself out. 

"Long answer here, it's going to sort itself out. There's some really good players. Some of them aren't in the spring, but there's plenty of good players that are in the program that will get a chance to step up and help this football team."

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