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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Guard Competition Heating Up, Raising Offensive Line Play

August 2, 2023

Experience isn’t an area Notre Dame lacks when you look at the 2023 roster, but there is a glaring hole in the heart of the Irish offensive line. 

Notre Dame needs to find two starting guards and live game reps are hard to come by at the position. 

Graduate student Andrew Kristofic return the most experience as he’s made eight starts, including the season-opener a year ago at Ohio State as he filled in for the injured Jarrett Patterson. But following the game, Kristofic and the rest of the reserves on the offensive line didn’t play much as he led the four main guard candidates with just 63 snaps in 2022. 

Juniors Rocco Spindler and Pat Coogan saw three snaps last fall, while Billy Schrauth didn’t take a snap in a game.

Now, all four arrived at Notre Dame with lofty rankings as recruits, so the talent is there despite the lack of game reps, but at the same time, it makes Joe Rudolph’s job that much tougher. 

Rudolph went deep into his process of finding his starting guards as Andrew Mentock noted earlier this week: Joe Rudolph Details Notre Dame's Offensive Guard Competitions, but Joe Alt, Zeke Correll and Blake Fisher also weighed in on the progress of the competition as it appears Spindler and Kristofic will compete for the right guard spot while Schrauth and Coogan are fighting it out at left guard. 

“The guard competition, it's a battle every day and it's about who's going to be the most consistent, who's gonna come to work and who's gonna get the job done,” stated Fisher. “We have a lot of great options. I love playing next to everybody. There's not anybody that kind of sticks out more than another, it's just finding consistency in the best five that work together right now.”

For Correll, the graduate student will play alongside two new faces in 2023, so each rep in fall camp is extremely significant in building consistent chemistry and communication. 

“You have to get a feel with each and every guy,” explained Correll. “The main thing for us is keep getting those reps together and making sure we’re playing the same way, especially on these run combinations just so it feels the same way every single time. That way when you it, we can knock them off the ball, get a lot of movement and get some big runs.”

Spindler seems to have gained some momentum in the last few days as he worked with the first team over the weekend and into this week. Correll has noticed a few changes in Spindler’s game, including the mental aspect as he competes with Kristofic’s experience.

“Rocco’s taken some big steps,” said Correll. “Mentally he’s been a lot more dialed in. That’s helped him play with a little more clarity and it’s helped him play faster. Now he’s been able to use that strength that he has and really be able to use that strength and physicality that he has against guys versus a little earlier in the spring where he knew what he was doing but with maybe a little uncertainty, a little hesitation, versus now he’s playing a lot faster, which has helped him a lot.”

On the left side, Alt has seen positive growth from Coogan and Schrauth dating back to the spring. 

“For both of them, I think it’s just their confidence,” said Alt. “Billy and Pat, spring ball was the first real one reps and getting in the with the group. I think for them it’s their confidence every day. Building on their technique, building on trusting the guys next to them, building on the playbook and understanding it. It’s confidence day in and day out. They’ve been building that and it’s shown so far.” 

Correll has also noticed the competition levels rise next to him and that’s the goal. 

“We have a really good competition at the guard spot right now,” Correll said. “It’s making the room a lot better. It’s just raising the whole level of the room. It's been very competitive at the guard spots, and it’s making us better.”

Notre Dame defensive lineman Rylie Mills has faced the Irish guards each day and agrees the competition is intense regardless of who has taken reps inside. 

“They’ve definitely been mixing it around each day,” Mills stated. “It’s good to get a different look. The young guys like Billy, Rocco and Aamil (Wagner) are all getting looks. Each day has been good to see them get out there and compete. I love to bring my best and see them bring my best."

Rudolph believes the competition will sort itself out soon as the Irish will start its second week of camp on Wednesday, which is important as Notre Dame attempts to build cohesion before the season opener against Navy. 

“I think Zeke, me and Blake know the guys who are playing next to us,” explained Alt. “Even if it’s rotating, we have a good feeling for all of them. I think the cohesion is there. We just have to continue to take it day by day and get a little better every day.” 

If it is a rotation, Fisher doesn’t expect there to be many growing pains as the guards will have experience around them. 

“For me it's just being as consistent as possible,” Fisher stated. “Giving that guy, whoever it is, everything that I have to help him be the best that he can be. We have Zeke right next to both guards and me and Joe on the outside, so it's all gonna come together. Rotation or first team guard, it doesn't matter. We're still going to go out there and get the job done.” 

And as for the ideal guard, Fisher made it pretty clear what he wants beside him. 

“Just dominant. I just want to blow people off the ball. That’s just who I am and that’s my mentality. I just want someone who is dominant, can communicate and do their job. We’ll take care of the rest.”

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