Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Spring Preview: Offensive Line

February 22, 2017

The 2015 offensive line was supposed to be the start of something great. They were a finalist for the Joe Moore award and it seemed like it could be an annual tradition with the way Notre Dame has developed and recruited at the position.

2016 was a step back. No one can debate that, yet everything sets up for a big bounce back year from the line in 2017. The two best players who could have left early for the NFL elected to stay. They are joined by two other returning starters and another with experience. Throw in some former big time prospects that now have their redshirts lifted, and a few other backups that could be ready to step forward, and things appear to be in place for the line to be very good.

The competition should be strong even at some positions that are likely already filled.

Consistency key for McGlinchey

If you just had a highlight reel for Mike McGlinchey last season, I think it would be pretty comparable to the one the year before. He had a lot of pancakes and did some tremendous work in pass protection when switching over the left side.

I think the biggest thing for him this spring is to see more consistency. Ronnie Stanley and Zack Martin were darn near perfect when it came to pass blocking. McGlinchey had more lapses with his technique than them. Can he achieve the level that they played at in their final season? He is capable of doing it and it starts in practice. No one should sniff the quarterback rushing against him. He can be that good, it just has to be an all the time thing.

It's not much different with him as a run blocker. There is no doubt he can maul defenders at the point of attack. He doesn't lose battles physically. This spring is another opportunity for him to develop that consistency with his footwork, hand placement, and assignments.

He can be as good as any tackle in college football and it will be a great sign if he dominates all spring.

Keep building for Nelson

If Notre Dame as a team played better last season, then I believe Quenton Nelson would have been a consensus All-American. I thought he was exceptional week to week and rarely didn't accomplish what he set out to do on each snap. He embarrassed defensive tackles routinely in the run game.

As he heads into his his third spring ball, it's just about building on what he already is. In my opinion it is all about him staying healthy and working in unison with McGlinchey to become better at handling stunts and the blitzes Mike Elko will throw at the line in practice.

Is Mustipher secure at center?

This is going to be one of the biggest questions that not many are discussing this spring. It was a year filled with ups and downs. Some of those downs may be because he didn't exactly have stability next to him at right guard all season. Notre Dame did play some very good nose guards too, but the downs were there regardless of the reasons and have to be acknowledged.

Mustipher won the job last spring. In fact, it seemed like it never was that close to between him and Tristen Hoge according to the coaching staff. It never even got to the point in fall camp where it was a consideration for Hoge to be more than the number two. When you watched Hoge in practice, it was clear why. He still struggled with functional strength at the point of attack and often would stop his feet on contact. Hoge moved well and fit more of the prototype with his size, but Mustipher was clearly the better player.

This spring I think there is a chance that center job could be up for grabs. Mustipher should be a year better and hopefully will be stronger with the new strength and conditioning staff, but is Hoge ready to take that next step and challenge for the center job again? Where is his strength going to be at with the new S&C regime in place?

Parker Boudreaux could also be a darkhorse to compete for the job as well. We just don't know enough about him since he got to campus in terms of his progress.

The mostly forgotten part of the equation is the mental aspect of playing center. Only Harry Hiestand can tell you where everyone is at in that respect, but I would guess he feels fairly confident in Mustipher now that he has a year of starting experience. I expect the job to still be Mustipher's by the end of spring, but Hoge is a player to watch.

Sorting out the right side

Nothing is more important for the Hiestand this spring than to figure out who and how many can play on the right side of the line this fall. A starter doesn't have to be named at right guard. One wasn't named at left guard in 2015 with Nelson and Alex Bars still competing heading into the fall and things turned out fine.

Notre Dame just needs to know that they have good options there. They didn't have good options coming out of last spring at right guard. This spring needs to be different for everyone to feel confident about the fall.

Bars will start somewhere on the right side, but he may be better suited to play guard than tackle. He struggled in one on one pass pro at times. The question is whether or not Liam Eichenberg or Tommy Kraemer is ready to take over at right tackle. With Kraemer, he may be better off at guard as well. The assumption is that a combination of those three will make up the starting right side of the line.

There is always the possibility that Hoge could compete at guard too. He worked there last spring and if he and Mustipher both progress in a way that makes them two of the best five, then Hoge might find his way to right guard. Hunter Bivin is also somewhat in the mix too. He played some there last season, but I have always felt he was a more natural tackle. It's not out of the question that he could play right tackle with Bars kicking inside.

There really are a ton of options for them to look at. The key is getting the best five who work together as a unit the best on the field. This spring is a chance for them to tinker with different lineups. Hopefully there is some clarity that comes out of the tinkering heading into the summer.

Others who may compete

Jimmy Byrne is a fourth year player who has never found himself competing for a starting job in his career. It's now or never for him if he is going to have any chance at coming back for a fifth year.

Trevor Ruhland isn't someone that has been discussed much. This is his only his second spring heading into his third year at Notre Dame. I thought he did pretty well in garbage time, but we've never seen him against the best in practice or in games. Everyone anticipates that Kraemer and Eichenberg have leaped over him in the pecking order, but he has a chance to disprove that.

Notre Dame will have two early enrollees practicing as well with Aaron Banks and Robert Hainsey. It would be a surprise if either sees significant reps this spring.
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