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Notre Dame Football

Joe Rudolph Continues Notre Dame OL Standard of Excellence with Personal Approach

April 17, 2023
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Joe Rudolph joined Notre Dame with the unenviable task of replacing the legendary Harry Hiestand as offensive line coach. 

Hiestand spent two stints with the program from 2012-17 and in 2022. In that time, he developed several of the top offensive line units in the country, winning the Joe Moore Award in 2017. His first-line units included several top-50 NFL Draft picks like Zack Martin (No. 16, 2014), Ronnie Stanley (No. 6, 2016), Nick Martin (No. 50, 2016), Quenton Nelson (No. 6, 2018) and Mike McGlinchey (No. 9, 2018). 

Current Notre Dame offensive tackles Joe Alt and Blake Fisher should join that group in the next year or two, with Alt already projected as a top-five pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. 

Rudolph worked with 10 offensive linemen at Pitt and Wisconsin who developed into NFL Draft picks, yet he has never coached a player with Alt’s package of attributes. 

“Some guys just have amazing talent, amazing athleticism, amazing size and then there are some guys that just have to quality of leadership and the grit and the way they’re going to get it done in the moment,” Rudolph said of Alt. “They’re going to be a great leader, make guys around them better. You don’t always find that all in one guy. 

“He’s as close as I’ve got to see all of that in one guy. He brings it from all facets and it’s much appreciated.”

When Hiestand departed, he left the Notre Dame offensive line room with an important message.

“The standards don't change,” Fisher said. “What we do every day doesn't change. The standard has been set and it's been set forever now. It's just continuing to do what we do and what we do best and improve on it.”

Why reinvent the wheel with a player-established culture of success inside the offensive line room and proven talent on hand?

Instead, Rudolph has focused on unit cohesion.

“Both coaches are very similar,” Alt said or Rudolph and Hiestand. “We've had a lot of continuity from the coaching change, a lot of similar verbiage, same ideas pushed both in the run in the pass. And I think it's been a very easy transition for the guys and for us, just because it's so similar and they both coach so similar. It's been a really easy transition.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that Rudolph is strutting around practice impersonating his predecessor. 

Hiestand was a notorious yeller, so there’s now less screaming during spring practices inside the Irish Athletic Complex.

He’s also introduced new drills and occasionally incorporates large physio balls.

It might look odd seeing 300-pound offensive linemen running into walk-ons carrying physio balls, but Rudolph says there’s a clear purpose and benefit to this.

“I can't have those guys running full speed into each other, but I want them to feel the violence and the velocity that they need to move with and play with,” Rudolph said. “It's kind of funny but with the physio, if your feet aren't in the ground, and you hit that thing, you'll go. It'll bounce you the opposite way. 

“It kind of teaches that in a way in which you're really not taking on a great collision, but you are forced to kind of be cored up, have your feet through the ground and be able to make contact at full speed and run through it.”

The offensive playbook shouldn’t change much since tight ends coach Gerad Parker was promoted to offensive coordinator, but Rudolph still needs to adjust how certain techniques and sets are taught.

“Some of our combo blocks are a little different,” Irish center Zeke Correll said. The footwork is slightly different. I think that’s the main difference. Other than that, we just have to keep making sure we’re on the same page, working together, making sure our double teams are tight. Obviously assignment, everyone has to know what they’re doing at all times and know what the guy next to them is doing. 

“A big emphasis has just been do your job. Don’t try to do anyone else’s job. Know and know that you know. Understand what you’re doing and just do your job. Go out there and execute. That’s been a big message.”

Ideally, the transition from Hiestand to Rudolph will be seamless, especially as Notre Dame works in two new starting offensive guards

Rudolph wants to get the best five offensive linemen on the field together at the end of the day, even if that means moving a tackle inside — a philosophy Hiestand also shared. 

The offensive linemen believe there’s plenty to learn from Rudolph, even if he brings different strengths to the room as a position coach.

“Coach Hiestand definitely helped me prepare and understand the game of football and what I have to do to take advantage (of) every play and just dominate,” Correll said. “Coach Rudolph has helped me keep improving my game: He’s smart. He’s helped me with my pass sets, getting out of my stance, understanding pressure, how formation affects linebackers, everything cerebral in the game as well as technique. He’s been a great help to me.”

 
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