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Notre Dame Football

Post-Spring Position Outlook | Offensive Line

May 12, 2021

Spring ball revealed many things about the 2021 Fighting Irish, but there are many areas where questions remain. No position has more questions than the offensive line.

That was bound to happen with four new starters, but it ended up being five this spring with Jarrett Patterson not available to practice. That meant there were a ton of moving pieces with players auditioning at multiple positions. At the end of spring there wasn’t much settled and there’s still things that need to be worked out before we get to the opener at Florida State.

We know that Zeke Correll will be the starting center. Brian Kelly told us so and that means that Patterson is going to play another spot. We don’t know which one yet, but we know there are two starters set and it’s definitely good news that Correll appears to have built off of the progress he made when playing at the end of last season.

Calling it an expectation that fifth year players Josh Lugg and Dillan Gibbons would earn starting spots is probably too strong of a description. They certainly had to be favorites to earn full-time roles at the start of practices, though. We know that didn’t happen for either of them.

Gibbons started out at left guard and by the end of the spring was taking reps with the second team at center. He would have provided depth at the very least, but the fact that he didn’t claim a starting job was a factor in him electing to transfer to Florida State.

Lugg seemed like an obviously safe choice to start at right tackle or guard and the fact that we aren’t coming out of spring with that set in stone might say more about the type of spring he had than the players he is competing against. He’s had starting experience and filled in admirably for Robert Hainsey in 2019 in the back half of the season. He was not as good when playing guard and center in 2020.

If things were decided today, he’d probably the starting right tackle, but he’ll have competition from Tosh Baker, Michael Carmody, and this may be a spot where Patterson ends up as well.

Baker played left tackle in the Blue-Gold game and was splitting with early enrollee Blake Fisher there for most of the spring. Later on he started to get reps at right tackle with the first team. Is that the spot that best fits Baker? Has Fisher, who impressed people within the program and fans during the Blue-Gold game, the likely starter on the left side? It’s going to be interesting to see how Jeff Quinn approaches this because Lugg and Carmody are going to be competing there as well.

The assumption is that Fisher has an edge at left tackle unless this is where the staff sees Patterson.

It’s murkier at guard, but things did clear up a bit with Gibbons gone. That opens the door for Rocco Spindler, who was taking first team reps at the end of spring, to potentially start at guard. Like Fisher, he’s beyond his years compared to other early enrollees.

It may come down to the comfort level Notre Dame has in playing two freshmen on the line. One is far from unprecedented. Robert Hainsey split with Tommy Kraemer at right tackle in 2017 and Steve Elmer took over the right guard spot in 2013. Two might not seem feasible, but I’m not sure Quinn will have much choice if Spindler and Fisher are two of the best five.

Three others were in the mix at guard this spring. Andrew Kristofic, Quinn Carroll, and John Dirksen have a shot to play this season, but none of them separated themselves from each other. Dirksen looked the best of the group in the spring game, but that’s essentially one practice.

If two of them become factors this fall, that would go a long way in helping the situation at guard. If none of these three look like they can play at a high-level in fall camp, then the staff may be forced to slot Patterson inside.

Hunter Spears is the only other veteran on the roster on the O-line and there has been little discussion of him competing for a spot. It would be safe to say that him getting into the mix would be a surprise.

Caleb Johnson was the early enrollee who didn’t receive the attention that Fisher and Spindler did, but the feedback about his future was positive. He’s a virtual lock to redshirt this season and spend the year getting stronger.

Joe Alt and Pat Coogan are the two freshmen who will arrive on campus in June. Normally it would be written in sharpie that both will redshirt, but there’s a chance both could crack the two-deep given the uncertainty after the spring.

It doesn’t look like Notre Dame knows who their five best will be for Florida State and that’s okay at this point. They can work that out in camp with Patterson locking in his role and the pieces fitting around him. They likely have a good idea of their seven or eight best after the spring.

We may see a scenario where a position gets split reps and we may see more shuffling with positions. It’s going to be a huge summer for strength and technical development for a handful of players. How that shakes out will determine who will start against FSU and how the line’s ceiling is this season.

This is definitely a position where if the right player shows up in the transfer portal, I would expect the staff to aggressively pursue adding someone to the competition.

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