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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Guards in Heated Competition as Spring Football Closes

April 14, 2023

The interior of Notre Dame's offensive line is going through a makeover this spring. Jarrett Patterson and Josh Lugg are off to pursue their NFL dreams and that means first-year offensive line coach Joe Rudolph is in the process of finding starters at guard. 

Rudolph ideally wants to have an idea of who will start coming out of spring ball, which concludes next weekend with the Blue-Gold Game, as he hopes to start building cohesion during the offseason. 

Redshirt senior Andrew Kristofic has the most experience, while redshirt sophomore Rocco Spindler and redshirt freshman Billy Schrauth are also favorites to be in the mix, but don’t count out redshirt sophomore Pat Coogan or even redshirt junior Tosh Baker. 

Rudolph now has 10 practices under his belt and while it’s not a ton of reps, it is enough to start the process of finding his starting five. 

“What you want to do is identify who could be ready,” stated Rudolph. “Ready could mean different things. There’s physicality. There’s the ability to execute with technique. There’s the ability to be consistent in technique and physicality, and then there’s a mental side. Do you know what to do and how to do it?

“When you find that group of guys, who can consistently be the best when everything’s moving, and guys are shifting, and there’s yelling, and who won’t flinch in that moment. Just because a guy isn’t there yet doesn’t mean he won’t get there in time. That’s why you have to keep working to develop.”

Development will be key for the Irish as only Kristofic has true game experience, including starting games and being in the trenches when the game is on the line. In fact, the gap is quite in experience is significant as Kristofic has played 656 snaps over the last two years while Tosh Baker comes in second at 202 and then Spindler is third with just 19 snaps.  

At left guard, Coogan has started to take reps at guard after playing center his first two years in South Bend and seems to be battling Schrauth to start next to All-American Joe Alt. 

“I think there’s been a really good battle at left guard—Billy Schrauth has been working along with Pat Coogan,” explained Rudolph. “They’ve got the majority of the reps there. I think it really freed Pat up going to guard, I’ve seen his footwork getting better and I think it’s a little more natural for him.”

Coogan played guard in high school and he was quite good at it. 

That said, if Coogan or Schrauth aren't ready for the challenges of college football, Rudolph is prepared as he believes Baker could be a great fit next to Alt. 

“And yet I know I could take Tosh if need be and give him an opportunity at guard as well,” stated Rudolph.

Yes, the 6-foot-8, 310-pounder is a large human, but Rudolph isn’t caught up on ideal size for a position as he wants to find the best five. 

“I don't mind,” Rudolph said when asked if he preferred not to move a tall player to the interior of the line. “Big guys aren't bad.” 

Baker is also open to the idea of playing guard as Rudolph has already had a conversation about the process of the potential move. 

For Baker, it all comes down to trust and attitude. 

“You have to concentrate on always having a plan together in terms of what are the things you need to address,” Rudolph explained. “I’m not worried about who’s in front of me. I’m worried about the things I have to get better at. Then I think you have to have trust that there’s a vision that sees you trying to put the five best guys on the field together. I think those things probably have to go hand-in-hand.

“That’s what I’ve shared with him along the way—told him I’d get most of his reps at tackle, but he’s absolutely someone that could go inside and that’s what we’re working through this last week-and-a-half.” 

The battle at right guard is just as heated as Rudolph has paired Kristofic against Spindler. Rudolph believes Spindler’s last two practices have been his best and he also mentioned another player who has quietly impressed. 

“On the right side I think it’s been a really good battle between Andrew and Rocco,” said Rudolph. “Andrew has been really steady. He’s been out there before and knows it and Rocco continues to get better. From where he started to where he is now, he and Ashton Craig have probably made the most growth.

“That’s been really cool to see, the guy’s earning their own confidence and getting there. At the same time, Aamil (Wagner) is someone who could be one of those five best guys.” 

Notre Dame’s next week of practice will provide the chance for guys to make a move. This Saturday, the Irish will have its most important day of the spring as Notre Dame will scrimmage. It’s a far better look into the team compared to next weekend’s Blue-Gold Game as the staff will be able to control the depth chart and which situations they want specific players put into. 

“I think there’s a lot of competition going forward and this Saturday will be big and next week will be big,” said Rudolph. “I think those are kind of your tests. That’s what you’re evaluating off of to see who’s going to be able to do it in the moment.” 

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