Landing blue chip offensive line recruits has never been too much of an issue for Notre Dame, but everyone knows that it's reached an even higher level in the last few years since Harry Hiestand came to South Bend. It's easy to excuse anyone for not getting too excited about another top offensive lineman.
There are plenty of reasons why Liam Eichenberg should be considered as an exception than just another top offensive lineman though.
For one, it's at a position of need. It might not seem like it because Notre Dame was fortunate enough to have a 4 year starter at left tackle in Zack Martin replaced by a probable top ten pick in Ronnie Stanley, but Stanley is more than likely not going to be around for his fifth year of school. Even with Mike McGlinchey still having two years of eligibility after the 2015 season, they still need numbers at the position.
With Jerry Tillery moving to defensive tackle and the other two 2015 offensive line recruits projected for the interior, Notre Dame needed to sign at least two tackles in this class. They hit a homerun with their first commitment at tackle in Tommy Kraemer and then hit another one out of the park with Eichenberg jumping on board.
The second part is where he was located on overall recruiting board for 2016. Brian Kelly actually offered Eichenberg before Kraemer. They offered him back on March 29, 2014, almost two years before he would ever sign a letter of intent. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that the Irish have now landed the two offensive lineman who were perched at the top of their board basically since they generated a board for the 2016 recruiting cycle. That's how highly they thought of him and it's easy to see why based on his sophomore film.
He has the obvious physical tools that project really well for the next level (6'5" 290 with long arms), but it was his feet and advanced technique that had me excited about him as a prospect. I broke him down back in September and I was so impressed by the efficiency of his movement.
His slided easily back in pass protection, was light on his feet, and was so much more balanced than most players are at that same stage of their development. He also knew how to use his length to his advantage even though he hadn't quite developed a violent punch.
Here's an example of how natural it looks for him in his pass set.
He even knew to make the defender pay for jumping to try and deflect the pass. You can tell he is well coached, along with rest of the his teammates on the line. The patience he shows when picking up this stunt on this next play is almost unfair. That is something that has to be learned and he already is a step ahead of the game.
It takes some offensive linemen a long time in college to know to not overcommit and wait for the stunt to develop like that.
With what I saw from him in pass protection in addition the way he moved his feet with his zone steps, his sophomore film was more impressive than the junior film of some of the other top offensive tackles in this class.
Unfortunately for Eichenberg, he suffered a knee injury that he played through his entire junior year and it was obvious to me when I watched him on film. He showed flashes of being a mauler in addition to showing great feet and advanced technique as a sophomore, but I could tell he lacked power and did not move as well as a junior.
He's now healthy after having surgery to repair his meniscus and I expect that he will build off the potential he showed as a sophomore and could ultimately be considered a 5 star player at the offensive tackle position if he progresses as a senior. Yes, he's that talented.
I want to see him consistently finish blocks more as a senior, just like he does right here on this play below where he drives his defender on to the sideline. To me, the ability to sustain and play nastier are the missing pieces from his game. If he develops that, then the sky is the limit for him as far as his ceiling.
The great part of that being the main thing lacking from Eichenberg's game is that he is going to be surrounded by teammates on the Notre Dame offensive line who will be constantly looking to finish and play to the echo of the whistle. That mentality can be infectious.
Landing Eichenberg isn't just icing on the cake for o-line recruiting. It's what the Irish coaching staff needed to do if they were going to continue to build a team that can win the battle upfront every week. Notre Dame is Tight End U with the recent pipeline of NFL talent. If they keep recruiting like this, they may just end up being O-line U as well.