Our journey through the Notre Dame position groups moves on to the offense. Before I dive into the playmakers that Coach Kelly will utilize to pressure opposing defenses this fall I will discuss the guys in the trenches that will make it all possible.
Last week Coach Kelly alluded to a lack of depth on the offense with the following statement.
"We're really thin offensively in the depth of our football program. So if you're looking at where the perceived weaknesses are in the program, it's through recruiting and that skill position. That's got to be addressed."
This unit returns four full time starters and Chris Watt who saw significant time in relief of Chris Stewart. Offensive line coach Ed Warriner feels good about where this unit is heading into the season.
"That's huge," Warinner said of the experience he returns up front. "We have four starters back. Chris Watt played 150-200 snaps, (Andrew) Nuss started playing at the end of the year, he's back. That gives you some depth at guard, one of those two will start, and the other one can be a three man rotation. (Christian) Lombard's coming on, physically he looks great. He's starting to get it and put it all together, he's coming on. (Michael) Golic's coming on, we probably got eight guys right now we can play winning football with and we're hoping to get to nine or ten."
Listed below are the individual players along the offensive line. Due to Coach Kelly's propensity for moving these guys around they will just be grouped by what is currently their primary position. Players with an * next to their class will be eligible to apply for a 5th year after graduation.
Of note three starting offensive linemen will exhaust their eligibility this fall. Tackle Taylor Dever, and Guards Trevor Robinson and Andrew Nuss will be moving on. Ensuring the continued development of the rest of this unit will be imperative this fall to ensure success in 2012. Let's take a look.
75 Taylor Dever 6'5" 301 (5th Year) Dever waited in the wings behind Sam Young for three seasons before cracking the starting lineup last fall. Dever had some notable mistakes in the early going then settled in nicely down the stretch. Taylor isn't particularly dominant in any single facet of his game but he is quietly very dependable. I expect him to have another solid season this fall.
74 Christian Lombard 6'5" 290 (Sophomore*) Lombard was a very highly touted recruit out of Illinois that has now worked his way into the two deep as Dever's backup at right tackle. I am excited about seeing the sophomore in the rotation this fall in relief of Dever. Lombard is definitely one of the young linemen that needs to get as many live reps as possible this fall as he will likely be the starting right tackle in 12' and 13'.
70 Zach Martin 6'4" 303 (Junior*) Zach saved a year of eligibility as a freshman then quickly locked down a starting role in his sophomore campaign last year. With three years of eligibility remaining, and a year of starting experience already under his belt, Martin will be a vital component of this line through the 2013 season. Zach is a very solid offensive lineman that is only going to get better.
64 Tate Nichols 6'8" 303 (Sophomore*) The beastly Nichols was looking like he was set to be Zach Martin's backup at left tackle prior to dislocating a kneecap last week. It will most likely be Michigan State week before Nichols is back in action.
72 Nick Martin 6'4" 280 (Freshman) Freshman Nick Martin jumped right in behind Zach Martin when Nichols suffered his knee injury last week. The staff has commented that the freshman has done a great job overall of stepping up. In addition offensive line coach Ed Warriner commented on how the veterans along the OL have done a much better job of mentoring their younger teammates this fall. I suspect that Martin has been on the receiving end of a lot of that mentorship.
79 Jordan Prestwood 6'5" 287 (Freshman) Prestwood is a highly touted recruit that committed to ND then de-committed and signed with Florida State. After enrolling early at FSU and going through spring ball Prestwood then decided ND was where he really needed to be and executed a transfer to South Bend at the end of the spring. As a result Jordan won't be eligible to play this fall.
76 Andrew Nuss 6'5" 303 (5th Year) Coach Kelly loves to cross train offensive linemen and Nuss is a shining example of that. While currently listed as the starter at left guard ahead of Chris Watt Kelly has also noted that Nuss will be needed to play some tackle this fall as well.
"First of all, we let him battle for the guard position," Kelly said. "We didn't want to immediately say, ‘okay, you our utility guy.' You don't give a kid a fair shot to earn a starting position if you do that. He's really had a great battle with (Chris) Watt, both of those guys will play. He also, as a team player, has to be able to play some tackle for us. He has that versatility, and if we don't play him at tackle our next guy in is a freshman. (He's) a very, very valuable player for us."
78 Trevor Robinson 6'5" 311 (Senior) Robinson has been a solid guard for the past three seasons. He played quite a bit as a freshman then won a starting job as a sophomore. As a junior in 2010 Trevor was quiet and steady. T Rob packed on an additional 15 pounds this offseason and should be a dominant right guard for the Irish this fall.
66 Chris Watt 6'3" 310 (Junior*) Watt battled his way into getting plenty of minutes at Left Guard behind Chris Stewart last season and it looks as if he will be in a similar situation with Andrew Nuss this fall. Watt came to ND as a highly touted guard prospect and has also cross trained at center to improve the overall depth across the line. Watt is a very athletic interior lineman that has his best playing days in front of him. I expect another solid performance from him this fall.
73 Lane Clelland 6'5" 297 (Senior*) Clelland was relatively invisible for his first three years in the program and recently suffered an injury that will also keep him out for the 2011 season. Unless he is granted a 5th year of eligibility his playing days at Notre Dame could be done.
65 Conor Hanratty 6'4' 315 (Freshman) The Freshman Hanratty is currently listed as the #2 Right Guard behind Trevor Robinson. Hanratty has great size but like any freshman has a steep learning curve ahead of him. Hanratty, Hegarty and Carrico could all use some seasoning this fall as they will most definitely be needed in the two deep next fall.
77 Matt Hegarty 6'5" 291 (Freshman) Hegarty is a highly touted recruit that also needs to develop as quickly as is possible.
56 Brad Carrico 6'5" 290 (Freshman) See Matt Hegarty above.
52 Braxton Cave 6'3" 303 (Senior*) Cave is a beast of a kid that took over as the starting center last fall. Like Dever, Cave had some rough spots early but really settled in down the stretch. Ed Warriner had this to say about Cave.
"He had a lot more on his plate," Warinner said of why Cave struggled so much a year ago. "He had never played, we asked a lot of him. He started coming on and had his best game of the season against Miami in the bowl game against a good football team and a good front."
"I thought the first 10 days of spring ball for the offensive line, he really showed a lot of improvement," continued Warinner. As much or more than anybody, and his first three days of camp have been nice. That's what we're trying to get him, he knows what he is supposed to do. Don't overthink, just go play hard and let your physical ability take over, and he's starting to do that. When he does he has the toolset to be a pretty good player."
I expect that Braxton will have a very good season in the middle of the offensive line. He is an intense and powerful lineman that is coming into his own as a senior.
57 Mike Golic Jr. 6'3" 295 (Senior*) Golic is another offensive lineman that has also cross trained at both center and guard for the Irish. He is currently listed as the #2 center behind Cave and the coaching staff has spoken highly of Mike during camp. I will be interested to see how much he gets on the field and how he looks when he's out there.
51 Bruce Heggie 6'5 280 (Sophomore) Heggie almost single handedly started RKG = We're screwed mania when he signed with the Irish a couple of years ago. The Sophomore packed on an additional 30 pounds in the last 12 months but still seems a little long and lean to play center. Still no telling how this experiment turns out!
With the season opener 6 days away I feel good about the offensive line overall. The starters are definitely solid but getting experience for a lot of these young backups could also go a long way towards starting 2012 off on the right foot. I hope to see the Irish win enough games comfortably to allow that to happen.
In the next installment I will discuss the Tight Ends and Wide Receviers. If you missed the first three installments of this series you can find them at the links below.