Reviewing the Redshirts is an off-season series meant to resurrect discussion around the current Irish freshmen who did not play in 2014.
There were 11 players this past year who retained a year of eligibility and today we take a look at an athletic Marylander seeking a home on the interior of the line.
OL, Sam Mustipher
Hometown: Olney, Maryland
247Sports COMPOSITE RANKING:
4-star, No. 12 OG, No. 3 MD, No. 216 USA, 0.9123 Score
Need at Position: Medium
Expected Spot on the 2015 Depth Chart: Second String, Somewhere
Another RtR post and yet another offensive lineman to cover. Will it ever end? Yes, this is the last of the 4-man O-line haul from last February and then we'll move on to the final handful of other redshirts from 2014.
I'm usually pretty strict and tough to please when we hand out our recruiting grades each year. Mustipher was someone who I was particularly grumpy towards last year.
Nice prospect but doesn't seem to overpower the competition in high school which is a concern. This fact alone, unless he's made tremendous strides during his senior season, makes me think he's at least a couple years away from serious playing time. Mustipher down blocks well and shows good motor, even if he blocks a little high sometimes. I think there's a lot of potential here but it's largely untapped. I'd really like to see him get stronger in his lower half and increase his overall strength. The expectation for a Notre Dame recruit on the line is to do plenty of mauling in high school and he's the weakest of the four in this regard for the 2014 class.
Simply put, Mustipher seemed like a tackle stuck in a guard's body. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you. It's just I didn't see the overwhelming strength and power in the same way as classmate Jimmy Byrne or many other 4-star guards.
The interesting thing during Brian Kelly's NSD press conference last year when he was talking about Mustipher was that he brought up his good footwork. He did so three separate times in just a handful of sentences on a 30-second blurb on his new lineman. That was a lot of talk about something that isn't usually associated with guards.
Obviously the height isn't there for Mustipher to play tackle but those good feet are probably the reason why he started getting some work at center late last season.
On the FR OL, Brian Kelly: Quenton Nelson is at left guard right now. Alex Bars at tackle. Sam Mustipher some work at center. Bivin at T— Observer Sports (@ObserverSports) December 16, 2014
Does he have a long-term future at center, though?
It might be Mustipher's best shot to see the field and grab a starting spot down the road. First off, the team is awaiting a 3 to 4-year career for Quenton Nelson at left guard set to begin in 2015. The other guard spot should be Steve Elmer's for a couple more years.
At center the Irish have Nick Martin entering his final season this fall and that position will need a new starter in 2016.
Now, if Mustipher started getting some work at center late last year what reason would there be to stop unless he's simply a better player at guard? It doesn't seem a certainty that he's going to train full-time at center but I think Mustipher would benefit from such a decision.
The wildcard in all of this will be Tristen Hoge, the freshman already on campus and the nation's No. 1 center. Mustipher is a year older and has more time in the program but this will be both players' first spring practices so there is a little bit more equality than you'd think. Hoge has also been working on his craft as a center for much longer and could be further along in his development in center-type skills.
However, size could be an issue for Hoge, at least for 2015. He was listed in the upper 270's for some time but did gain weight as a senior and was listed at 291 during The Opening, while Notre Dame listed him at 290 on National Signing Day. Kelly has mentioned in the past that he's fine with the center playing at 295 (Nick Martin's weight) so it's not a big issue but in comparison Mustipher might have as many as 20 pounds on him in 2015.
There's no easy answer here. It would be fascinating to see who played center if Nick Martin were to get injured but let's hope we never have to experience something like that. Nevertheless, someone is going to have to get second-team reps at center--and unlike the Martin/Hegarty combo last year where both were starting but the former backing up the latter in the middle--someone who isn't starting is going to have to be ready to go because I don't think Elmer or Nelson will get shifted to center.
I also don't think you can risk playing a true freshman this fall, so in terms of roster management it would be wise for Hoge not to be counted on as the main backup in 2015. Unless the staff plans on Mark Harrell playing the backup role and second team center--debatable but possible I suppose--I think you have to develop Mustipher beginning this spring, hope you don't need him to play either, and then let the chips fall where they may with a competition against Hoge in 2016.