2019 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2019 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 77 of 163

76 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW OFFENSIVE LINEMEN A fter losing the No. 6 (left guard Quenton Nelson) and No. 9 (left tackle Mike Mc- Glinchey) selections in the 2018 NFL Draft, there was no place to go but down for last season's Notre Dame offensive line. The transition phase was further exac- erbated with the season-ending injury to the team's best lineman (fifth-year senior captain Alex Bars) in game five, 2012-17 offensive line coach Harry Hiestand return- ing to the NFL, and in-season transitions at quarterback and running back. Lo and behold, Notre Dame still advanced to the four-team College Football Playoff — and this year it is the offense that is projected to be the team strength, while the defense is in some flux. A combination of four return- ing starters along the offensive line and vi- able competition behind them has enhanced the position group. "There are no off days. That's the big thing about it on all our groups on offense," third-year offensive coordinator Chip Long said. "This isn't happiness camp we're run- ning. We want to win games and champion- ships. The guys know that after three years. The effort and the way they practice have been really good. "We don't necessarily have an alpha along the line, but we have a lot of good leaders and good workers in that group." Over the past nine years, the left side of the Notre Dame offensive line has been as formidable as they come in college football with the likes of Zack Martin and Chris Watt from 2011-13, Ronnie Stanley and Nelson in 2015, and Mike McGlinchey and Nelson from 2016-17. The tandem of senior left tackle Liam Eichenberg and junior left guard Aaron Banks this season, and perhaps in 2020 as well, has an opportunity to continue that tradition. In the two games prior to Banks' inser- tion, Notre Dame averaged 123.5 rushing yards and 3.5 yards per carry. Over the next five contests to close out the regular season once Banks became a starter, those figures improved to 206.4 rushing yards per contest and 5.2 yards per attempt. The line collec- tively also allowed only one sack per game in that span. According to Long, Eichenberg was a bit too tentative on occasion as a first-year starter, which should be rectified in year two. "He's a conscientious kid that just does not want to make a mistake," Long said. "Sometimes you just have to go. You have to get movement even if it's not exactly right." Two years ago, 2019 junior right tackle Robert Hainsey and senior right guard Tommy Kraemer were part of a unit that won the Joe Moore Award as the nation's best offensive line. Hainsey has become the team's best lineman, while Kraemer is in the best shape of his career after temporarily los- ing his job to current fifth-year senior Trevor Ruhland, who started five games. "He had to move better," Long said of Kraemer. "I like to pull our guys, and we were not very good last year. We're not go- ing to lose that part of our offense." On paper, Ruhland appeared the favorite to win the starting center job vacated by 2016-18 starter Sam Mustipher, but former left tackle and sophomore Jarrett Patterson was deemed by the staff as the fifth best offensive lineman and made a smooth tran- sition there. He also provides more size and quickness. Ruhland's status for the season is a question mark while trying to rebound from past knee and shoulder injuries. Junior Josh Lugg is described by head coach Brian Kelly as the team's "Swiss Army knife" and likely will be the next man in at guard, tackle or even center. Collectively, the group remains in line to continue excellence up front. ✦ ASSEMBLY LINE The excellence up front is expected to continue with four returning starters and strong recruiting Right tackle Robert Hainsey graded out as Notre Dame's best blocker as a sophomore last year. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL SCHOLARSHIP PLAYERS (14) Listed after the class year is the years of eligi- bility remaining. Left Tackle 74 Liam Eichenberg (6-6, 305), Sr./2 73 Andrew Kristofic (6-5, 275), Fr./4 60 Cole Mabry (6-5, 273), So./4 Left Guard 69 Aaron Banks (6-6, 325), Jr./3 75 Joshua Lugg (6-7, 310), Jr./3 76 Dillan Gibbons (6-4, 308), Jr./3 Center 55 Jarrett Patterson (6-4½, 300), So./4 57 Trevor Ruhland (6-3½, 295), 5th/1 52 Zeke Correll (6-3, 275), Fr./4 Right Guard 78 Tommy Kraemer (6-5½, 319), Sr./2 56 John Dirksen (6-5, 310), So./4 71 John Olmstead (6-4, 280), Fr./4 Right Tackle 72 Robert Hainsey (6-4½, 298), Jr./2 77 Quinn Carroll (6-6, 285), Fr./4

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