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Notre Dame Football

Joe Rudolph Details Notre Dame's Offensive Guard Competitions

July 31, 2023
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Fighting Irish center Zeke Correll entered fall camp 2022 knowing he’d play between offensive guards Jarrett Patterson and Josh Lugg, a pair of experienced veterans entering their fifth and sixth years in the program.

In 2023, Correll is the elder statesman breaking in several guard candidates.

Through five practices this fall, Correll has snapped next to five or six different first-team offensive guard candidates during team periods or individual drills. 

Would he like to know which two players he’ll line up next to this fall? Damn straight, but for now, the battles at left and right guard equate to net positive.

“This competition has been good for the unit,” Correll said. “Whoever's next to me, I trust them, and I know they play football for Notre Dame.”

On Monday, Irish offensive line coach Joe Rudolph laid out the three criteria he’ll use to determine Notre Dame’s starting guards against Navy on Aug. 26 in Dublin, Ireland:

1) Accountability 

2) Win at the point of attack

3) Make others better

As Rudolph puts it, “You've got to be able to control the controllables.” That includes limiting penalties, executing assignments correctly and a player’s overall attention to detail.

Only it takes more than being in the proper position at the right time.

Were former Notre Dame standouts like Quenton Nelson, Zack Martin and Liam Eichenberg technically proficient and assignment correct? Of course. 

Still, they started multiple years at Notre Dame and became high NFL Draft picks because of their abilities to dominate the defender across from them.

“You can hit a landmark, you can have your hands in, you can do all those things,” Rudolph said, “but if you can't win or punch a hole in that defense, then you're gonna have a problem.”

Lastly, there’s no other position group where inter-unit chemistry matters as much. Both guards need to gel and effectively communicate with Correll and 

“I’m looking for guys who can get the job done in a way that makes the guys around them better,” Rudolph said. 

There’s more room for error with that final point. Whoever wins either spot will play alongside Joe Alt and Blake Fisher, the best tackle duo in the country, as well as a veteran center in Correll. 

Notre Dame has yet to host a fully padded practice this fall, but the competition at both guard spots is already well underway.

“We’ve had a lot of guys who have played good football so far,” Rudolph said. “We’ve got really good competition at the guards. Andrew Kristofic and Rocco Spindler at the right side have been competing their tails off. I’ve been really excited about both of them. On the left side, Billy Schrauth and Pat Coogan have been in a battle and done a great job.”

Rocco Spindler vs. Andrew Kristofic

Four days into spring ball, it appeared Spindler had stumbled his way out of the right guard competition. 

“He spent all four days on the ground,” Rudolph said. 

Four months later, Spindler looks and plays like a new man. He shed weight and dropped from 330 to 314 pounds in the offseason. 

Early in fall camp, he’s also proving he’s more than just a former blue-chip high school recruit. 

“We laugh about it now because he's added tremendous growth and at the end of spring, he was flat-out winning at the point of attack,” Rudolph said, “and that's why he's fighting for this race. He's really picked up in a good place, coming into fall camp, which makes it a great competition.” 

It won’t be easy to defeat Kristofic. The fifth-year senior also finished his prep career as a top-120 recruit. He’s also far more experienced, starting eight career games at guard, including last year’s season-open against Ohio State for the then-injured Patterson. 

Overall, he’s played 726 career snaps to Spindler’s 19. 

Nevertheless, Spindler is ascending at the right time. He garnered first-team reps during Notre Dame’s partially padded practice on Saturday. 

Billy Schrauth vs. Pat Coogan

Most assumed Notre Dame had concluded who would start at left guard, but Rudolph says the competition between “Billy Schrauth and Pat Coogan is very real at the left side.”

Coogan, a junior, also repped with the first team at left guard during Saturday’s practice. 

Now, is it possible Notre Dame wants to create competition at positions without an incumbent starter? 

Sure. 

At the same time, Schrauth is just a sophomore. He may be a physical specimen capable of dominating at the point of attack, be he still needs to prove he can be relied upon consistently. 

Even if he inevitably wins the job, it’s probably best he prepares as if nothing’s given.

Tosh Baker? Aamil Wagner?

Rudolph wants as much competition as possible at left and right guard, so he’s also opened the fight to the second-team tackles. 

“I’ve worked Aamil Wagner and Tosh [Baker] in there a little bit to see if one of those two guys would take to that,” Rudolph said. 

Baker received reps at left guard in the spring, while Wagner worked next to Alt during individual drills on Monday.

In the long term, both may be better suited for tackle. At 6-foot-8, Baker is much taller than the typical guard, who must often contend with short, stout defensive tackles and nose guards.  Wagner is a bit undersized at 288 pounds and possesses the length and agility to thrive on an island down the road. 

At the same time, why limit them if they’re ready to start in 2023? In real time, Rudolph is exploring this question and several others.

“What's in the best interest for those guys?” Rudolph said. “You want them to play great football. You also don't want to put them in a spot where it doesn't help us. You know what I mean? They've been all approaching it the way you would hope.” 

In the end, it may come down to if the guard position clicks for either throughout a few practices. 

Co-Starters?

Notre Dame rotated Robert Hainsey and Tommy Kraemer at right tackle on a unit that won the 2017 Joe Moore Award, which is given annually to the nation’s most outstanding offensive line.

With contested battles at both guard spots, could Rudolph punt and name co-starters at one or both open spots? 

In an ideal world, clear starters will emerge. 

“You want to find five guys that could go out and play and then have the next guys ready,” Rudolph said. “There have been times when maybe it was in best interest for different reasons to play multiple guys at a position, but it's not what I would lean to or look to at the jump.”

For now, the position clashes will continue. 

Notre Dame opens the season in less than four weeks, so the Fighting Irish can’t go without naming starters for too much longer. 

“We’ll wire it in pretty soon,” Rudolph said. “It’s nice to start a little early. You’re trying to figure those things out through your first couple of weeks.”

 
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