The Notre Dame offensive line will look to improve upon an up and down 2018 season, and they have the weapons to do that.
Offensive line play is something Notre Dame doesn’t typically worry about. Traditionally speaking, whether the team is good or bad, the offensive line is a strong point on the roster. After losing All-Americans and first round picks Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, Irish fans knew the team was due for some regression. However, just like Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State reload quickly at the skill positions, Notre Dame does the same along the offensive line.
The 2018 offensive line returned veteran starters in Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars while also retaining partial starters Robert Hainsey and Tommy Kraemer. The only new starter was left tackle Liam Eichenberg. With that said, Bars was transitioning to left guard from right guard and Kraemer from right tackle to right guard. Four players with starting experience, but only two at the same position they played the previous year. On top of that, no team replaces two top ten picks with ease, and Notre Dame was doing it along the same position group. Bars would also go down after 5 games with a torn ACL.
2019 brings a ton of continuity for an offensive line unit that desperately needs it. They were far from perfect in 2018, but starting experience is present across the entire line entering the spring.
Notre Dame retains four main starters from the 2018 offensive line as well as 5th year rotational interior lineman Trevor Ruhland at center. As mentioned above, the unit had its ups and downs throughout the 2018 season, but overall they were still one of the better groups in the country.
Eichenberg dealt with a nagging ankle sprain for most of the season, but continued to improve week by week. Banks proved to be a solid replacement for Bars, and a player the staff is really excited about moving forward. Ruhland, a natural center, has seen starting time at guard throughout his Notre Dame tenure, and should provide some stability for the Irish in 2019. Kraemer is a former five-star still trying to find that dominant play we all know he possesses. Lastly, Hainsey enters his third season as the main starter on the right side, and has shown to very reliable. Essentially, the line should and will be better by default due to more experience and plenty of talent.
Behind these five guys is where things start to get interesting. Red-shirt sophomore Josh Lugg has been a player the staff has raved about since his arrival in South Bend, but he has yet to crack the starting rotation. Can he overtake one of the five starters in the Spring or Fall, or will he be a solid rotational piece if needed? I think he is one guy that shouldn’t surprise us either way.
The same could be said for red-shirt freshmen Jarrett Patterson and Luke Jones. Patterson was a constant standout during his first year on campus, and many feel he could challenge for time in 2019. Players like Kraemer and Ruhland will need to prove their worth. Jones has worked at center throughout 2018 and could overtake the more experienced Ruhland with a good off-season.
The Irish also bring in a terrific 2019 offensive line recruiting class that all happen to be early enrollees. Zeke Correll, Quinn Carroll, Andrew Kristofic and John Olmstead all arrived in South Bend earlier this week with tons of potential. I wouldn’t expect any to start right away or at all in 2019, but specifically Correll could challenge for the currently empty center spot.
Dillan Gibbons, Darnell Ewell, John Dirksen and Cole Mabry will all provide talented depth and will look to breakout in their own right. Overall, it should be fun to follow the offensive line progression during the Spring and Summer leading up to the start of the season.
In 2019, Notre Dame returns a very strong offensive line led by seniors Liam Eichenberg, Trevor Ruhland and Tommy Kraemer. The O-line has traditionally been a strength for Notre Dame, especially in recent years.
Assuming the three mentioned above start Week 1 — as they should — the Irish will also return two quality, experienced lineman in Robert Hainsey and Aaron Banks. Both of these guys are juniors who will be more than able to fill the shoes of the star ND O-lineman of the past.
Notre Dame also has a lot of young talent at the offensive line position. Guys like Andrew Kristofic, Zeke Correll and Quinn Carroll could see time this season. The Irish have always recruited well on the offensive line, and that didn’t change this season.
Prediction and Expectations for 2019
Nathan: It is weird looking at the 2017 team with McGlinchey, Nelson, Mustipher and Bars on the line and now all are gone from the program. The good thing is it kind of feels like they only lose one starter (Mustipher) due to Bars’ injury early on in the season. I expect Eichenberg and Hainsey to be bookends at the tackle spots, and I am also a big fan of what Banks could be become in 2019. My biggest question marks are at center and right guard. Replacing a three year starter and captain is tough, and Kraemer has yet to live up to his five-star billing. With that said, the unit should be better in 2019 based on experience alone. Notre Dame has plenty of talent waiting in the wings, and the coaching staff should be able to weed out the bad with good if need be.
Mason: Notre Dame stays strong on the O-Line even with the losses of Mustipher and Bars. Expect this position to — as always — be a strength of the 2019 Fighting Irish.