To say that Notre Dame’s 2022 offensive line is beginning from scratch is a gross overstatement. Every projected first-stringer has multiple games of starting experience for the Irish, some at more than one position. But the reality is that last year’s unit failed to produce anything of substance in the run game against quality competition. That fact was painfully apparent in a Fiesta Bowl where the Irish threw 68 passes and rushed for just 42 yards.
So it’s back to the drawing board from a run-blocking perspective, and that starts with the interior offensive linemen. Adding back offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and graduate assistant/analyst Chris Watt for their second go-arounds is decidedly a step in the right direction. But the players are the ones who do the dirty work on the field, so to get to know the centers and guards, I present each as a comparable film starring one of the great actors of our time: Nicolas Cage.
Although, sadly, “Face/Off,” “National Treasure” and “Con Air” failed to make the list. Sorry to disappoint any who were looking forward to their inclusion.
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson — “The Rock”
Moving from center to guard doesn’t change the fact that Patterson is the rock of Notre Dame’s offensive line. So his comp is the Nic Cage masterpiece “The Rock.”
After redshirting as a freshman in 2018, Patterson was handed the reins of the starting center job as a true sophomore. He’s been a revelation ever since, not giving up a sack in his entire Notre Dame career. He was a three-time watch list member for the Rimington Trophy (given to the best center in college football) and is a three-time watch list member for the Outland Trophy (given to the best interior lineman in college football).
If it weren’t for a broken foot requiring Lisfranc surgery at the end of the 2020 season, Patterson may have spent last year as an offensive tackle and could be on an NFL roster right now. Alas, Blake Fisher proved himself to be a revelation at left tackle and Zeke Correll failed to assuage concerns as a starting center in 2021, so Patterson stayed in the middle.
Now, coming off a torn pectoral muscle this offseason, Patterson is expected to make a position change to left guard. That’s due in large part to having a new head coach who shows more faith in Correll at center and is intent on getting the five best linemen on the field. Patterson will contend for an All-American selection as he gets one year of NFL-level tutelage from Hiestand before likely heading for the pros.
No. 52 Zeke Correll — “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”
Correll has had the misfortune of being stuck behind Patterson for the first three years of his career. And even after Patterson’s broken foot in 2020 opened the door for Correll, he sprained his ankle in his first start against North Carolina. Then the coaching staff tried to play him out of position by putting him at guard in 2021.
After all that, Correll is expected to finally be the starting center in 2022. It could be his chance to get some vengeance for the criticism he received as a guard and all the adversity that has held him back. So “Spirit of Vengeance” is his movie.
And, for what it’s worth, Correll fought through his high ankle sprain and started and held his own at center against Alabama in the College Football Playoff at the Rose Bowl (at the Cotton Bowl). What he’ll be able to do with some guidance from Hiestand will be critical to Notre Dame rebooting their production in the run game.
No. 75 Josh Lugg — “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”
Speaking of Hiestand, there is one lineman on Notre Dame’s roster who actually played under the Irish O-line coach during his last stint in South Bend: Josh Lugg. In that way, he was Hiestand’s apprentice for a single season, and now the “sorcerer” has returned. You get the idea.
Lugg redshirted as a freshman while his unit won the 2017 Joe Moore Award. After special teams duties the next year-and-a-half, he finally got a chance to start the final five games of 2019 after Robert Hainsey’s season ended due to injury. Lugg was once again relegated to sixth man status on the 2020 line, but started at guard against North Carolina in place of Tommy Kraemer and at center in two games after Correll’s ankle sprain.
Last season was Lugg’s first as a full-time starter at right tackle. He appeared in all 12 regular season games before a knee injury during bowl prep kept him out of the Fiesta Bowl. With Blake Fisher impressing at right tackle in Lugg’s stead, the sixth-year Lugg is expected to start at right guard for the 2022 season, one last hoorah under the master Hiestand.
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic — “Gone in 60 Seconds”
Notre Dame’s offensive line was a fluid situation last season, both in the sense that numerous players made appearances and that opposing defenses cut through the line like it was Jell-O. At least, that was the case until Kristofic took over the starting left guard spot against Virginia Tech and didn’t look back.
Notre Dame’s O-line improvement in the back half of 2021 was certainly attributable, at least in part, to a weaker slate of defenses. But Kristofic’s contributions shouldn’t be discounted in solidifying the left side of the line alongside left tackle Joe Alt. And yet, Kristofic now finds himself back in an anticipated bench role in 2021. Not to be dramatic, but he got his chance to start and then was quickly cast aside, almost as if he was … “Gone in 60 Seconds.”
This season, Kristofic will back up Patterson, Correll and Lugg on the interior. If nothing else, he provides some much-needed assurance in case the 2022 interior offensive line experiences a rash of injuries akin to those experienced at left tackle last year.
No. 50 Rocco Spindler — “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”
This may seem like a weird comp, especially since Spindler doesn’t even weigh the most among interior linemen. But Spindler was a borderline five-star and unanimous top-100 recruit in the 2021 class alongside Fisher and Alt. And yet, he still hasn’t made a move while two of his classmates are starting as true sophomores.
However, to be entirely fair, expecting Spindler to start in his first two years is largely unrealistic. Fisher and Alt are exceptions, not the rule. So for all Spindler’s talent — and it seems he has plenty of it — the expectations may seem unbearable, but he’s simply on the same track as the vast majority of collegiate linemen.
Most need a couple of years (or more) of collegiate strength and conditioning before they’re game-ready, and most don’t have the same number of talented players (or an NFL position coach) around them like Spindler does. With Patterson and Lugg starting at guard and capable backups in the wings, Notre Dame isn’t wanting for Spindler to fulfill his potential right now, but next season is a different story.
No. 74 Billy Schrauth — “Willy’s Wonderland”
His name is William and he’s going from one snowy wonderland (Wisconsin*) to another (South Bend, Ind.). Hence, “Willy’s Wonderland.”
*DISCLAIMER: I have never been to Wisconsin; I just think of snow and cheese curds whenever it’s brought up
Schrauth was a four-star recruit ranked as high as the No. 2 player in Wisconsin (per Rivals, On3 and 247Sports) and the No. 87 player nationally (per Rivals) in the 2022 class. The in-state Badgers were a heavy lean for a while, but outgoing offensive line coach Jeff Quinn managed to snag the native of Fond du Lac for the Irish. (I mean, how could a guy from that hometown not wind up at the University of Notre Dame du Lac)?
Despite enrolling early, Schrauth missed all of Notre Dame’s spring practices after having surgery to fix a foot injury he played through as a senior. With the talent ahead of him, he’ll likely spend his freshman campaign watching and learning before he gets a chance to make a move on the depth chart next season.
No. 78 Pat Coogan — “It Could Happen to You”
My original comp for Coogan was going to be “Left Behind.” Because even though his name was brought up last offseason as someone who could conceivably get playing time if injuries piled up at center like they did in 2020, the path for Coogan didn’t look so good one week ago.
If Coogan is going to play anywhere, it’s probably center given the number of bodies ahead of him in the guard pecking order. But even at center Patterson could always shift over to center if Correll were to get hurt. Plus, there’s been talk that Kristofic or Michael Carmody could slot in the middle as well, so it seemed like Coogan had sort of been … left behind.
But during Notre Dame’s first practice of fall camp this past Friday, Correll and Fisher had to take a break from drill work because of heat exhaustion. When that happened, Coogan came in at center.
Now, that doesn’t make Coogan the second-string center by default; maybe the coaching staff just wanted to get him some work during a fall practice. But the fact he got in there at all with some first-string linemen means that there’s a chance Coogan could see the field in an injury pinch. It could happen to him.
So the former three-star recruit out of Marist High School in Chicago will probably just be a practice contributor and a depth piece this season, but perhaps it wouldn’t take a devastating sequence of injuries (like I originally thought it would) for him to find playing time.