Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 31 of 63

32 MAY 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI D uring an amazing 11-year stretch from 2003-13, Notre Dame had five consecutive second- or first-round selec- tions start at tight end: Anthony Fa- sano, John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas. The "Tight End U." moniker now could be replaced by "Left Tackle U." if junior Liam Eichenberg continues the path set by his predecessors un- der head coach Brian Kelly. In all eight of Kelly's seasons with the Fighting Irish from 2010-17, he ei- ther had a first-round pick at left tackle with Zack Martin (2010-13) and Ron- nie Stanley (2014-15), or a projected one with Mike McGlinchey (2016-17). The stage now is set for the 6-6, 303-pound Eichenberg, who was rated by Blue & Gold Illustrated football analyst Bryan Driskell as the No. 1 re- cruit in Notre Dame's 2016 recruiting haul and was singled out that fall by Kelly as "a stud" while working on the scout team (just as Martin, Stan- ley, McGlinchey and guard Quenton Nelson all did as freshmen). Like Stanley and McGlinchey, Eichenberg has played at right tackle prior to shifting to the left side. Unlike Martin, Stanley and Mc- Glinchey, though, Eichenberg will enter his junior year with zero career starts (although McGlinchey himself only had one). For that, he blames himself. He had the opportunity last spring and fall to be the "co-starter" at right tackle with classmate Tommy Krae- mer. Instead, freshman Robert Hain- sey beat out Eichenberg in that role. "Last spring I really didn't put enough time into it," Eichenberg said. "I've definitely seen a lot more growth from actually being bought in. … As a freshman, you play scout team and then you come in, in the spring and you are expected to know everything. "I just didn't put enough time in to understanding the offense. The more you understand the offense, the easier it is. You can just play. … I know my assignments and I can just let it go. When you're thinking, you slow yourself down." The goal each spring along the offen- sive line is to find the five best players — and then align them at the position where they have the best chance to succeed as a collective group. The top four was relatively easy to figure out going into the spring with fifth-year seniors Sam Mustipher (center) and Alex Bars (right guard) returning, along with 2017 co-starting right tackles Hainsey and Kraemer. The concern was filling the im- mense holes on the left side because of the graduation of consensus All- American McGlinchey and unani- mous All-American Nelson. At the start of this spring, Hainsey was shifted to No. 1 left tackle to fill the void left by McGlinchey, while Kraemer remained the No. 1 right tackle, with Eichenberg behind him — just like during the 2017 spring. However, Eichenberg's newfound dedication to watching tape with new offensive line coach Jeff Quinn about two or three times a week, plus his own growing competitive spirit to comple- ment his talent, quickly made him one of the five best linemen on the team. This prompted Eichenberg's switch to left tackle, Hainsey moving back to his more familiar right tackle role and Kraemer shifting inside to guard — originally on the left side. "After the first two practices I real- ized that me coming in, watching all this film, meeting with older guys … I was able to see everything," Eichen- berg said. "I wasn't out of balance, my sense was correct on the right call on defense they had. "Compared to last spring, the game has just slowed down a lot. I'm calling out pretty much everything. I understand the keys on defense … that's due to me being with Coach Quinn and just watching film." Eichenberg wistfully added, "I wish I would have gone up there with Coach [Harry] Hiestand a little more." Fortunately, with three years of eli- gibility remaining, he has plenty of time to continue his development. A case could be made for Eichenberg as possibly the most improved player on offense this spring, not only with his knowledge but also in his approach to the game. His budding confidence has in turn allowed him to play with much more conspicuous aggression. "I'm taking every shot I can at these guys on defense — not trying to get them hurt, but I'm trying to put them on the ground," Eichenberg said of not coming in with a cautious approach. The final piece to put together the Rubik's Cube offensive line during the spring was shifting third-year starter Bars from right guard to left guard (where Bars started twice in 2015) to provide a veteran and proven voice of experience next to Eichenberg. "Having Alex Bars on the left side definitely helps me out a lot because he sees a lot of stuff I haven't seen yet," Eichenberg said. "He's obviously a lot better calling out stunts coming at us." For Kelly, Eichenberg's length and size at left tackle and Hainsey's com- fort and experience lining up at right tackle provide the front the best op- tions along the edge, as well as the interior with Bars (left guard), Krae- mer (right guard, where he played some at North Carolina last year when Bars was briefly injured) and third-year starting center Mustipher, who shares captain duties with Bars. "What we really like about Liam is his strength, his size, his physi- cality," Kelly said. "He's learning, so why not move a veteran next to him where he can communicate with him, help him pass off twists. … He can stand up to different pass rushes we're going to get out there, the bull rush, and he's long enough to help off the edge. "… The real question was who do you put next to Liam." Now that it's been answered, the next question is whether the superb tradition of excellence at left tackle will continue in the Kelly era. ✦ A Left tAckLe U. LegAcy Junior Liam Eichenberg settles in at the most successful position in the Brian Kelly era Eichenberg appeared in five games last year, but is expected to step in at the ultra-important left tackle position this fall. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - May 2018