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Notre Dame Football

Spring Ball Preview | Offensive Line

February 21, 2022
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Everyone knew it was going to be a transition year on the offensive line, but no one predicted the injuries they’d deal with at left tackle or the overall struggles they would experience in the first half of the season. The feeling was that eventually they would figure it out and that did happen to a certain extent after implementing a new left side and making some scheme changes to the offense.

Those changes helped cover up some deficiencies and the line went from bad to average in the second half of the season, but average is not good enough at a place that has embraced the name “O-Line U”.

The expectation is that the Irish will be significantly better up front in 2022. It starts with Harry Hiestand replacing Jeff Quinn and bringing back eight players who started games last season. That should provide a nice foundation to help get back to where things should be and the main building block is Jarrett Patterson.

Possibly the top returning center in the country, he’s a three-year starter who will have his first spring working with Hiestand. He was good last season, even if the others surrounding him weren’t consistently at the same level. We’ll see if he can take it up another notch in his final year at Notre Dame.

Zeke Correll has experience behind Patterson and should be entrenched as the backup now that it’s clear that guard wasn’t a great fit. Correll needs to show he’s made the progress physically that is necessary to play at a level that is closer to Patterson’s. If he doesn’t, then there will be an opportunity for Pat Coogan to step up in his place.

Coogan redshirted in 2021 and we didn’t see a lot of him in fall camp, but the buzz about him has been positive. This is a spring where he could have a chance to make a move and establish himself as the next starting center for the Irish.

There should be some healthy competition at guard. It’s a relatively inexperienced group outside of Andrew Kristofic. He emerged at left guard and played pretty well while flashing some nastiness in the run game.

The arrow is pointing up with Kristofic and the question with him might be if he stays on the left side or moves over to the right. Hiestand did a really good job of developing his players to play both sides when he worked previously at Notre Dame.

The assumption is that Josh Lugg is going to slide to guard after starting all of last season at right tackle. The sixth-year player feels like a better fit there and the Irish look like they are in better shape at tackle. If Lugg wants a future in the NFL, then guard is the move.

It’s too early to say things are set with the interior positions, especially because big things are expected of Rocco Spindler in year two. The former highly touted recruit has the traits to develop into a great player, but time will tell if he is ready to unseat the more experienced players in front of him.

It’s not a disaster if he doesn’t get into the mix. If he does, then that is an encouraging sign for the depth inside.

Less is expected from Caleb Johnson this spring, but it will be interesting to see if he and early enrollee Joey Tanona can show enough to crack the two-deep. Billy Schrauth is also an early enrollee, but he can’t enter the chat until the summer as he recovers from a foot injury. He also might be someone that ends up playing tackle.

Notre Dame fans are excited about Joe Alt and Blake Fisher as players with potential to be elite at the tackle position. Both were extremely impressive as freshmen and still have so much room to improve.

Will Alt stay on the left side? Will we see these two look like future first round picks this spring while going up against some quality competition at defensive end? It’s going to be exciting to watch and see how they acclimate to Hiestand’s coaching.

So many are excited about those two that it’s easy to forget about Tosh Baker and Michael Carmody. They were forced into action sooner than they should have been last season. At the same time, each showed signs that they could become factors up front for the Irish at some point in their careers.

It will be interesting to see if Carmody is big enough to compete inside at guard. He worked at several spots last year and his path to playing time appears more clear there than at tackle.

Baker has an NFL frame and doesn’t appear close to unlocking his true potential. We’ll see if Hiestand can push him towards that. This spring could be huge for him if he can breakout as a quality third tackle while on his way to something more in the future.

Individual development is going to be important, but the group as a whole being better as a unit will be critical. Notre Dame struggled to run the ball last spring and summer and that carried over into the early part of the season. That has to change this spring to not only help the offensive line gain confidence, but also to better evaluate the running backs now that Kyren Williams is gone.

 
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