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Notre Dame Football

Fitting the Pieces Up Front

April 18, 2021

It wasn’t a great day for the Notre Dame offensive line on Saturday, at least not based on the highlights they sent out. Defense dominated the action with a number of plays made behind the line of scrimmage.

That’s going to happen in spring ball. There will be good and bad days. It’s not an easy thing to have more bad than good when a program is replacing four starters on the O-line. For this spring, with Jarrett Patterson out, it’s all five.

A lot of young players who are talented, but have not had a significant taste of college football, are getting reps. About ⅔ of the way through spring practice, it appears like the staff are just figuring out where every player fits best.

As Brian Kelly laid out after practice, they are locking in specific positions for the players.

Tosh Baker, Blake Fisher, and Michael Carmody are tackles. Zeke Correll is a center. Based on everything we’ve seen, Dillan Gibbons, Andrew Kristofic, John Dirksen, Quinn Carroll, and Rocco Spindler are going to play in the interior.

Who will be the best five of that group is still up in the air. We do know from what Kelly said that Correll is locked in at center as one of the five. While Kelly didn’t confirm that a healthy Josh Lugg should be penciled in, it does seem like he’s a strong bet to join Patterson and Correll.

Where Lugg will play could be largely dependent on where Jeff Quinn and the staff put Patterson.

"Jarrett, we're not sure until we get him back, whether he is a tackle and then we move Lugg to guard,” Kelly said. “Is he a guard and then Lugg stays out at tackle? We think Zeke's one of our five, so he's the center because if you want to get your five best.
"We want to leave an open mind to whether it's guard or tackle to kind of go back to answering that original question of getting the best five on the field.
"What we're doing is we're saying all right, Jarrett is the guard right now, what's our best five? Jarrett is the tackle, who's the best five? This is kind of like a game that we're playing right now in spring to see what's the best five when Patterson comes back. Is it guard, or is it tackle? He can play anywhere right now because he is not playing, but the fact of the matter is, once he gets back, then we'll start to figure out where his comfort level is and where he makes us the best five."

Let’s assume Lugg is in the five with Patterson, and Correll. That only leaves two more spots with plenty of competition. It could get very interesting from there depending on which two win out.

We can start at tackle where Tosh Baker and Blake Fisher are competing on the left side. If they keep Patterson at guard, he may end up playing next to one of these two. If Patterson plays tackle, he may end up taking that spot from them. He was the backup there during his redshirt season in 2018.

There could be a scenario where both players end up being good enough to start with one flipping to the right side. We haven’t seen that from either yet, but it is a possibility. We only need to look at spring in 2018 when Liam Eichenberg was competing with Tommy Kraemer at right tackle at one point with Robert Hainsey on the left side. Things obviously worked out much different by the time the fall arrived.

Perhaps Baker and Fisher end up at tackle with Lugg and Patterson at the guard spots. With Correll at center, that would be the five.

It’s probably a safer bet that only one of them ends up as a starter and that would leave one spot open for someone at guard. That makes it a battle between Gibbons, Dirksen, Kristofic, Carroll, and Spindler.

Gibbons is the veteran in terms of time spent in the program. In actuality, he’s played just over 200 snaps in his four years in the program. Over half of those have come during garbage time situations. He has a slight edge in experience based on games against Florida State and Syracuse last season, but not more than that.

It leaves pretty much everyone on even ground, which is why Spindler is actually a legitimate option to win a job. He’s already had reps with the first team in the spring and physically does not look out of place.

We do not know who has the edge if there is one spot open at guard. There’s always a chance we see it become something that is split between two players like right tackle was in 2017 between Kraemer and Hainsey.

We won’t know how everything will fit until Patterson is back working with the group in August. The picture is still not fully formed on the offensive line, but it’s starting to become more clear. Positions are set with most of the group and the pieces will fall into place with a unit that is trying to reload rather than rebuild.

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