2012 Notre Dame Preseason Depth Chart: Offensive Line

All the knee braces. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

Football is a funny game, one day you can have great depth and the next you're pondering a bunch of questions at a position you felt snug and secure about. Perhaps it's not as funny as it is cruel.

Notre Dame headed into fall camp with a healthy and robust 14 offensive linemen, but after one week of practices that number is down to 12.

Sophomore Brad Carrico had a foot that woouldn't heal properly and was given a medical hardship, while fellow sophomore Jordan Prestwood has left the team for undisclosed reasons and is no listed on the roster.

While these were blows to the offensive line they are hardly crippling in the short or long term.

As we enter 14 days before the first game week of the 2012 season, it is time again to revisit the depth chart at all the positions on the Irish roster. Today, we'll take a look at the big boys up front on this news-making offensive line.

* Denotes 5th year eligibility

Left Tackle

Zack Martin, Senior*, 6'4" 304

Tate Nichols, Junior*, 6'8" 320

Nick Martin, Sophomore*, 6'4" 290

Ronnie Stanley, Freshman, 6'6" 304

With the departure of Prestwood---who was running with the second team during practice---much has been made of true freshman Ronnie Stanley stepping up behind Zack Martin. Stanley may train all year with the two's at left tackle, but it will take major injuries for him to see the field in 2012.

So, in terms of a real depth chart---as in who is next in line to play---I have Stanley dropping all the way down to fourth at left tackle.

Hopefully we'll never have to find out, but it would be interesting to see who would play next if Z-Mart goes down with an injury. In that regard, it is possible that Tate Nichols and Nick Martin could flip-flop in this depth chart, but I put the older and wiser Nichols ahead for now, although it is cute to think that Martin is backing up his older brother.

I'm sure the Martin brothers don't think it's cute.

I have to think that with Nichols in the mix at right tackle, and Nick Martin more in the mix at right guard, that Tate would slide over to left tackle if need be.

Left Guard

Chris Watt, Senior*, 6'3" 310

Connor Hanratty, Sophomore*, 6'5" 305

Bruce Heggie, Junior*, 6'5" 285

Left guard just might be the least talked about position on the entire roster this year. The physical Chris Watt is back as starter, but there's been little discussion about who works behind him.

Right now, the large Hanratty is working with the 2's and is also listed as one of the 648 players cross-training at center. The ever-popular Bruce Heggie remains outside the two-deep and still has a mountain to climb in order to get on the field.

The tricky part may come if Watt is injured---does the staff move the young Hanratty up into a starting position? Or does the line switch to a Martin-Lombard-Cave-Golic-Nichols front? Again, let's hope we never have to find out.

Center

Braxston Cave, Senior, 6'3" 304

Mike Golic, Senior, 6'3" 300

Matt Hegarty, Sophomore*, 6'5" 296

Connor Hanratty, Sophomore*, 6'5" 305

Mark Harrell, Freshman, 6'4" 287

Not too long ago we were looking at the depth chart and wondering where all these prototypical tackles would move because the depth along the interior was lacking in comparison to the edges. Now, the opposite seems true. A freshman is working with the backups at left tackle, and a lot of players have begun their careers at guard or center.

Obviously this is Cave and Golic's last season so it would make sense to cross-train someone like Hanratty at center as he might be the backup here in 2013. Harrell is in a funny position since he came in with a small 2-player line class and is a good fit physically for center, yet he's probably looking at sitting behind Hegarty for a few years and he'll have to deal with the large class coming in this February.

The eligibility clock is ticking for the highly recruited Matt Hegarty, so I would expect him to see the field quite a bit in mop-up duty this year, although one would expect Golic to take over in the event of a Cave injury.

Right Guard

Mike Golic, Senior, 6'3" 300

Nick Martin, Sophomore*, 6'4" 290

I'm not very comfortable with Mike Golic grabbing a starting spot on the line, but if the coaching staff feels like he's earned it then you have to trust that choice. He definitely struggled last year at center once Cave went down, but perhaps his responsibility on the line will diminish at right guard and he'll play better there?

I don't know, I'm searching for answers a little bit there much in the same vein as John Goodman starting at wide receiver. Neither situation makes me particularly giddy.

Nevertheless, the coaching staff had made it clear that Nick Martin is going to see the field this year and may even share starter minutes with Golic---not a bad move in my opinion.

Right Tackle

Christian Lombard, Junior*, 6'5" 309

Tate Nichols, Junior*, 6'8" 320

It's obvious that the staff likes Lombard a lot as he saw quite a bit of action last year despite not starting. There still remains some questions whether he stays at tackle or moves inside to guard, but it looks like he's likely to stay on the outside.

In fact, Lombard's move may depend upon the staff's comfort with Nichols. If Tate can stay healthy it might be a good idea to start him on the outside and kick Lombard back to right guard. It seems that Lombard, Nichols, and Golic are most likely to move positions in case of injury, and if it were up to me I'd start the two players more comfortable at tackle and with better size.

Even with the loss of 2 players, the remaining 12 players offer really good depth, talent, and experience. As I've said in the past, 12 is a good number to roll with especially if you have a lot of experience and remember there are 5 more linemen coming in next season.

This unit looks to be one of the strongest on the team in 2012.

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