Brian Kelly inherited an offensive line that was, to be blunt, a mess. Pass protection was spotty at best and run blocking was virtually nonexistent.
The job Ed Warriner has done in his almost two years at ND has been fantastic. The offensive line has become arguably the best unit on the Irish team. But beyond the on-field success, the Irish coaching staff has been doing an equally good job on the recruiting trial.
Eric has looked at three players already.
Eric didn't want to talk about the offensive lineman, but I love the big guys, so I jumped at the chance to review the road graders.
We'll begin with a player that didn't even sign a LOI to play for Notre Dame.
OT Jordan Prestwood
Hometown: Plant City, FL
Rivals: No. 28 OT, No. 50 Florida
ESPN: No. 10 OT, 130th on ESPNU150, Grade: 80
Scout: No. 10 OT
247: No. 4 OT, No. 15 FL, No. 70 National, Rating: 95
Need at Position: High
Expected Spot on 2012 Depth Chart: Two-deep, possible starter
Most people are probably familiar with the saga of Jordan Prestwood: Initially a ND commit, Prestwood de-commited, signed with Florida State, and eventually ended up transferring to Notre Dame.
The 2011 recruiting class lacked a true tackle prospect, making Prestwood a big get for Notre Dame. The other three linemen the Irish signed project better to the interior linemen spots, though Nick Martin could potentially play outside. But tackle is an extremely important position, and only Prestwood is a pure offensive tackle.
Prestwood is an intriguing prospect because he played a lot of tight end and fullback in high school. Watching his film, you can tell he is extremely athletic. A lot of his success at tight end came from the fact that he was simply taller and stronger than everyone else on the field. But he showed the ability to get around defenders and was pretty good at getting to the edge. He's not exactly Cierre Wood, but that kind of athleticism is invaluable for an offensive tackle.
The one thing I think Prestwood needs to work on is his aggressiveness. Prestwood didn't switch to the offensive line until his senior year and he looked a little tentative at times. If you compare his senior year film to Ronnie Stanley's (another tackle that just committed last week), you don't see Prestwood consistently driving defenders backwards and planting them in the ground like Stanley did. He appeared to be a little passive at times. That isn't something that worries me, though. Prestwood just needs to learn the position, and Ed Warriner is as good a teacher as any.
Prestwood should have a good shot at playing significant minutes next season. Taylor Dever and Trevor Robinson are graduating, opening up two starting offensive lineman positions on the right side of the line. This coaching staff is high on the potential of Christian Lombard and Tate Nichols, so I expect the two of them to take those two spots with Nichols potentially moving inside, but I imagine Prestwood will be given an opportunity to fight for the right tackle spot even if the job is Lombard's to lose right now. (Edit: There's a good chance I'm wrong about this and Lombard is the one rumored to be moving to guard with the Taterpillar staying at tackle.)
The more likely scenario is that Prestwood will be groomed to take over at left tackle for Zach Martin in the future. Martin will be a senior next season and could potentially enter the NFL draft. But he will also be eligible for a fifth year, so the worst-case scenario for Prestwood is he sits behind Martin for two more years and then takes over at left tackle as a senior with a fifth year being a possibility.
Notre Dame has enjoyed fantastic play at left tackle from Zach Martin and Prestwood has a chance to continue that after Z-Ma moves on.