Two Down, Two to Go

The addition of four-star guard prospect Sam Mustipher (Olney, MD) gives Irish head coach Brian Kelly the second of four mandatory offensive line pledges for his 2014 recruiting class.

"We were probably in the red line in terms of critical need. Next year it won't be quite in the red line of critical need. It'll move into still a need for us in our program is to continue to build on the O-line."
-- Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly on the lack of offensive line depth in 2012.

Mustipher is critical piece No. 2 in addressing that need during the 2014 recruiting cycle. Along with fellow four-star pledge Jimmy Byrne (), Mustipher provides Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand an invaluable trait to develop over his four or five seasons with the program: versatility.

FOX Sports NEXT's No. 2 rated guard in the '14 class, the 6'4" 285-pound Mustipher fills a position of need at the program, this after a quintet of offensive linemen joined in 2013, the bulk of which are natural tackle prospects. Mustipher is an interior player, capable of both guard positions and -- as projected here -- evolution into a starting center role in his third season with the program.

Upon Arrival

A look at the offensive line's tiered eligibility when Mustipher hits campus prior to the 2014 season:

  • One 5th-year senior Christian Lombard, likely to be entering his third season as the starting right tackle. Prospective 5th-year senior Bruce Heggie (G) could return in 2014 to lend practice depth if the Irish remain below their target number of offensive line scholarships.

  • Three seniors, each of which will have two years of eligibility remaining entering 2014: centers Nick Martin and Matt Hegarty and likely 2013 right guard starter, Conor Hanratty.

  • Two juniors, both eligible through 2016: tackle Ronnie Stanley and guard/center Mark Harrell.

  • Five sophomores/redshirt-freshmen: 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). The only natural interior player among the incoming quintet is John Montelus (G/C). Each was deemed a four-star prospect per FOX Sports NEXT.

  • Mustipher's fellow incoming O-Line pledge Jimmy Byrne (T/G).

Notre Dame's transition season up front is 2014, that after the graduation of current 5th-year seniors Zack Martin and Chris Watt. By 2015, only Lombard should be in need of a replacement along the first unit, with 2012-13 recruits populating the starting group and the 2014 haul beginning to breech the two-deep.

The Requisite Way-Too-Early Projection

Mustipher begins his career as a guard in 2014, lending depth to a unit that will lose 5th-year senior and three-year starter Chris Watt at the conclusion of 2013. Though he'll cross-train at center behind 2014 seniors Martin and Hegarty (both eligible through 2015), his first push onto the two-deep chart will be at guard as a redshirt-freshman in 2015, a season in which Hanratty should be entrenched on the right, and Harrell/Montelus/McGovern battle for roles on either side.

After getting his feet wet at guard in his second season (2015), I expect a starting center role awaits in 2016 when Martin, and Hegarty exhaust eligibility. The 2016 squad will likely need a new starting guard as well with Hanratty, then a three-year veteran, moving on.

Said offensive line coach Harry Hiestand in April of an offensive lineman's third season at the program: "That's what you'd like to do, traditionally, historically, is get that amount of time to develop strength."

With depth turning from glaring weakness to potential strength, Mustipher can follow in the footsteps of the Martin/Hegarty/Hanratty trio and take a major leap forward in his third season with strength & conditioning coach Paul Longo, Hiestand, Kelly and the Irish program.

Note: Click here for our first installment in the season-long "Recruit Fit" series, and a look at pledges Greer Martini, Justin Brent, Jimmy Byrne, Jay Hayes, and Andrew Trumbetti.

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