The second of 14 storylines as we approach the 2014 football season...
There's hope that this year will be the best offense of the Brian Kelly era. If that is to be the case then the Irish will have to replace left tackle Zack Martin and left guard Chris Watt without taking too much of a step back up front. If there's a program that can shrug off 1st and 3rd round picks in the NFL Draft it might be the Irish but it's probably unlikely that the loss of Martin and Watt doesn't have some sort of negative affect on the team.
Here's what I had to say in early May when discussing the offensive line for 2014:
Zack Martin and Chris Watt are leaving behind 87 career starts. That's a ton of experience to replace but Notre Dame is in decent shape to do so thanks to some injuries last year that let some young players get some seasoning. Lombard (20 starts), Stanley (13), and Martin (11) form a trio of regulars from last year while Elmer (4), Hanratty (4), and Hegarty (2) also add starting experience to the lineup.
No doubt there is a lot of beef to work with this season. At this moment in time neither Hanratty nor Hegarty are expected to start so it's nice to have players of that caliber and experience ready to roll off the bench. As fall camp approaches here are a handful of questions I'm pondering:
Will Stanley and Elmer gel on the left side?
We're pretty lucky to be moving on from the Z-Mart/Watt era with players like Stanley and Elmer coming right in behind them. Still, both players are flipping sides of the line. The good news is that they got 4 starts together last year and should have a decent rapport together after an entire spring on the left side.
Can Lombard stay healthy?
Lombard started every game in 2012 and played well at right tackle. However, he missed the last 6 games of 2013 following back surgery and then broke his wrist in spring practice. He'll be fully healthy for fall practice next month so injuries shouldn't be the major issue as much as the missed time giving the opportunity to other highly talented linemen. I've said it before but I don't think Lomard's place on the line is set in stone even if he's 100% healthy.
Is McGlinchey is the future at right tackle?
In terms of inexperience the only major question for a single player projected to start stands nearly 6'8" and weighing 300 pounds. If the staff is comfortable with McGlinchey's ability during the fall it will go a long way to stabilizing the offense. If they lose comfort in the redshirt freshman then that opens up a new set or problems. Does Lombard move back to tackle? Does Stanley go back to right tackle and Elmer kick out to left tackle? Who will be the fifth lineman in the new unit?
I'm still curious to see who become the favored backups beyond the known quantities like Hegarty and Hanratty but that is more in the fun category of fall practice. It's tough to beat this depth.