Part 3 of this series rolls along with the big beef up front on offense.
Are We Better or Worse: The Defensive Front Seven
Are We Better or Worse: The Secondary
*Rankings are from 1 (poor) to 10 (great).
2013 Offensive Line (Predictions from 5/23/13)
I didn't have anything interesting to say about last year's line heading into the 2013 season besides the thought that they'd be pretty good.
The 2013 O-line actually has more experience (78 vs. 65) when you look at career starts heading in to the season but having to replace 2 players with new wholly inexperienced players lowered the ranking for this group. Nevertheless, experience isn't much of an issue when you have 2 outstanding veteran 5th-year leaders in Martin and Watt.
Only giving up 8 sacks on 429 attempts is a historically great season in pass blocking. Even if the running game wasn't very potent I don't lay much blame at the feet of the offensive line. I'd probably bump up their grade retroactively to something around 9.0 we just couldn't take advantage of their consistency and production.
2014 Offensive Line
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.
With another year of maturity out of the fantastic 2013 five-man haul I foresee greater depth and versatility than last year. All of Elmer, Bivin, and McGovern appear to be tackle/guard combo's which is great flexibility to have for a line that's not in desperate need of playing a bunch of young players. Add in two centers with starting experience, Hanratty adding another veteran body, and there's a lot to work with this fall.
You don't lose a NFL 1st rounder in addition to a mid-round pick and get immediately more talented on offensive line. Stanley and Elmer both have the pedigree to be NFL starters when they leave South Bend but they are both very young with 3 years of eligibility left a piece. Perhaps by the middle of 2015 we'll be talking about them the way we did about Martin and Watt.
So from an offensive line grading standpoint I'm certain we will see a step back from last year. Even if the offense scores more points and runs the ball more effectively that might not be because of stellar offensive line play. This should still be a very good line but I expect some growing pains and more sacks given up than last year.