Notre Dame rushed for a Kelly-era high 2,703 yards as well as 29 touchdowns last season and heads into spring having to replace 3 veteran offensive linemen. Will they be able to re-load and find some answers when practice begins next week?
Returning Snaps from 2015: McGlinchey (839), Nelson (724), Bars (139), Bivin (45), Mustipher (40), McGovern (26), Harrell (22), Montelus (10)
No Snaps Last Year: Byrne, Hoge, Ruhland
Lost Snaps: Elmer (842), Martin (828), Stanley (826)
Early Enrollee: None
Summer Arrival: Kraemer, Eichenberg, Boudreaux
A few weeks ago Notre Dame was planning on replacing only two starters along the offensive line but with the news of Steve Elmer taking a job in Washington an additional spot has opened up. That's a hefty 2,496 snaps to replace up front which is never easy. What's more, nobody took more snaps on the entire offense than Steve Elmer.
The Irish know McGlinchey and Nelson are coming back as starters, plus Alex Bars is the consensus third best lineman of the group. The only problem for spring is that Bars is not expected to be healthy after breaking his ankle in the middle of last season. So while McGlinchey/Nelson/Bars is the probable top 3 things will be different in the spring without Bars able to participate.
"To the Left, to the Left, to the Right, to the Right"
It is expected that Mike McGlinchey will move from right tackle to the left side to replace the departed Ronnie Stanley, just like Stanley did when Zack Martin left South Bend. Being able to anchor the Glinch next to Nelson is the type of left side that brings a firm fist pump from fans and cold sweats to opponents.
That opens up the right tackle spot where Bars is the likely favorite but someone has to take 1st-team reps there during spring. Bivin and Harrell were the tackle backups last year--does one of them develop during spring into (at worst) the third best tackle on the team or even legitimately hold that position down through the fall?
If not either of those options this spring may be monumental for Colin McGovern. The rising redshirt junior has been versatile enough to play both guard and tackle while some believe he'll be starting somewhere along the line this year. It's just a matter of where.
Center of Attention
Someone has to snap the ball! After a career that seemingly lasted for 7 years Nick Martin has moved on to the NFL leaving a hole in the middle of the Irish offensive line that might be more crucial than the more coveted Stanley leaving his left tackle spot.
The spring battle at center will be fascinating because it's a position where Sam Mustipher and Tristen Hoge are expected to go head-to-head for all the glory. It's rare when you get a position with such a focus on only two players and it's even more rare when you get that in the spring.
At the same time, Hoge and Mustipher are believed to be good enough to both make the Best Top 5 Linemen which means one will take over the center position while the other may become the starting guard for 2016. How does the coaching staff handle this possible scenario in the spring?
Without Bars, building camaraderie and a well gelled starting unit to bring into fall camp will be impossible. Therefore, will this spring be more about experimenting? Do the Irish quickly put Hoge at center and Mustipher at right guard (or vice versa), effectively end the battle for center before it began, pull up a younger player like Ruhland or Byrne as 2nd-team center, and zero in on finding a right tackle who can prove they're good enough to start?
Or do Hoge/Mustipher spend the spring rotating at center while a larger group of players swing things out at right guard and right tackle? Perhaps more importantly, if Hoge/Mustipher both stick at center for the spring does that mean it'll stay that way once fall camp opens? I suspect they might both stay in the middle now but one could move to guard in August and usurp someone who we thought might have won that job. Keep an eye out for Brian Kelly to mention if one of the center's are getting work at guard (even if the media don't see it) because that would leave the door open to such a decision in the fall.