Filled if not Finished

Notre Dame received a pledge from its fourth offensive line prospect for the 2014 cycle nearly nine months prior to National Signing Day. Friday's commitment of four-star tackle/guard Alex Bars (Nashville, TN) fills the program's projected need at the crucial position, but that doesn't mean the door is closed for offensive linemen No. 5 when the faxes arrive next February…

"Critical need" no longer applies.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly's phrase to describe his program's dearth of offensive linemen during the 2012 season belied the unit's overall talent level and the overall depth that Kelly developed at the program over his first three seasons.

But while most Irish fans understand Notre Dame's remarkable run to 12-0 last fall included the presence of just four healthy scholarship cornerbacks -- two of which took the lion's share of reps for three months -- its upon further examination that it was the program's fortuitous offensive line health that helped avoid calamity en route to a berth in the BCS Championship game.

Entering Season Four of the Kelly era and the second year with his offensive front under the tutelage of coach Harry Hiestand, the program has raised its number of total scholarship offensive linemen from 11 last season -- eight healthy and able to compete (Eight!) -- to 14 as the University prepares to break for the summer.

Peeking ahead to 2014, that number sits at a potential 16 scholarship players up front, pending a pair of 5th-year applicants (see below).

The newest member of the 2014 roster is four-star pledge Alex Bars. Bars, whose father Joe played for Gerry Faust at Notre Dame (1981-84), joins a trio of fellow four-stars Jimmy Byrne, Sam Mustipher, and Quenton Nelson -- this on the heels of five four-star pledges to the 2013 class, the combined nine poised to usher in a new era up front in South Bend.

Upon Arrival

Below is a look at the class delineation for the 2014 Irish offensive line when Bars hits campus.

Likely and Prospective 5th-Year: Senior Christian Lombard, likely to be entering his third season as the starting right tackle in 2014. He could be joined by classmate Bruce Heggie (G) in an effort to lend practice depth -- 16 total offensive linemen as of Bars' pledge Friday afternoon.

Seniors, all Eligible through 2015: Each of the team's three seniors along the 2014 offensive front can apply for a fifth season in 2015: centers Nick Martin and Matt Hegarty and guard Conor Hanratty.

Junior Pair: Both are expected to be eligible through 2016, tackle Ronnie Stanley because he was lost to injury during Week Four last fall and guard/center Mark Harrell who was withheld from action.

2013 Quintet: Current early enrollee Steven Elmer (T), fellow tackle prospect Mike McGlinchey, and a pair of 6'7" high school tackles likely to begin inside in Hunter Bivin (C/G) and Colin McGovern (G). Each was deemed a four-star prospect per FOX Sports NEXT.

Pledge Brothers: The 6'6" 295-pound Bars' and his fellow incoming O-Line pledges Jimmy Byrne (T/G), Sam Mustipher (G/C), and Quenton Nelson (G/T).

As noted following Nelson's commitment earlier this month, a fourth offensive line pledge was inevitable. We projected that end number following Signing Day 2013 and Bars filled that "critical need" prior to Notre Dame's 2013 graduation week.

A potential fifth offensive linemen joining what expects to be a 22-signee class isn't out of the question. In fact, its likely if said prospect is again part of the upper echelon.

But the current '14 quartet, on the heels of last year's quintet, puts the Irish front in an enviable position for 2014-15-16 and beyond. Attrition is guaranteed along the offensive line with recent examples Jordan Prestwood (transfer), Brad Carrico and Tate Nichols (both medical casualties) examples over the last 10 months.

Numbers that seem in excess are instead an essential part of the process at a position that often equates to a five-year scholarship contract in the college game. Bars, Nelson, Mustipher and Byrne are names known to Irish fans in the calendar year 2013 -- their impact likely won't be felt until 2016 or thereafter.

Whether Kelly and his staff land four or five linemen this fall is immaterial. They'll adjust and again hit the necessary number on the 2015 recruiting trail (three or four more OL pending the '14 cycle's final tally).

Thanks to the staff's efforts over the last two seasons, Notre Dame's practice field is finally well-stocked with developable bodies in the trenches.

Note: For previous "Recruit Fit" columns covering Notre Dame's 2014 class, click the links below:

The First Five Fit -- a look at pledges Greer Martini, Justin Brent, Jimmy Byrne, Jay Hayes, and Andrew Trumbetti.

Sam Mustipher

Nic Weishar

Elijah Hood

Quenton Nelson (Nelson's review examines the position's evolution during the Kelly era as well.)

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