Three-deep

Irish offensive line is finally 15 scholarships deep, with 12 among its ranks eligible to return following the 2011 season.

One year ago, Irish head coach Brian Kelly noted he thought he had 10 offensive linemen he could "win with," but was in search of five he could win a championship with. The latter remains to be seen, but the former has manifested itself on the 2011 roster – one rich in front line talent.

"Mike Golic is a guy now that we really trust," Kelly first offered when asked about the progress of his backups. "He wasn't physically in a position where we thought we could put him in there (last year). We feel really good about him.

"I look at (junior) Chris Watt: a guy that could be a starter for us. Andrew Nuss," Kelly continued about the line's major first unit position battle at left guard.

"Who knew about Taylor Dever last year? He's a solid, solid offensive lineman for us that allowed us to get a young player that has a huge upside in Christian Lombard, (a redshirt-season)."

Dever's ascent to a starting role after playing but seven minutes under the former regime kept Lombard and his fellow freshman tackle, Tate Nichols, where most offensive linemen belong as true freshmen: on the bench.

"So Lombard gets that (potential 5th) year which was so important. Tate (Nichols) got another year because of (Zack) Martin being the player he was," Kelly said of his left tackle starter and Irish lineman of the year, Martin. "So we took two young guys that didn't need to get pressed into action, and that was a huge concern for us last year (in August), because we didn't want to have to play a true freshman out there. Now that's where that depth starts to develop even more."

Notre Dame's first string up front should include, from left to right: Martin, Nuss or Watt, senior center Braxston Cave, senior guard Trevor Robinson, and Dever. From the group, Nuss, Robinson, and Dever will exhaust their eligibility at season's end.

Though sure to change, the Irish second unit took the field as such in its first practice (left to right): Nichols, Watt, Golic, early enrollee freshman Brad Carrico, and Lombard. Among the quintet, only Golic is a senior, though the Irish legacy has two seasons of eligibility remaining after being withheld from action in 2008.

Watt is a junior, though he did not play in 2009, granting him a possible 5th-year in 2013. Nichols, Carrico, and Lombard each enter the season with four seasons of eligibility though Carrico could earn a 5th through 2015 if he sits out this fall as did the majority of his predecessors.

A fluid situation just one day into August camp, the third unit showed freshman transfer (Florida State) Jordan Prestwood at left tackle, freshman Matt Hegarty at left guard, redshirt-freshman Bruce Heggie – a former defensive lineman recruit – at center, freshman Conor Hanratty at right guard, and freshman Nick Martin, Zack's brother, at right tackle.

Building blocks

A look at the performance of offensive line coach Ed Warinner's 2010 unit, one that debuted a pair of starting tackles in the season opener as well as a first time starter at center.

2010 Participation (total snaps by returning players): Cave, Martin, and Robinson ranked 1-2-3 among all offensive players in participation and 1-2-5 overall (linebacker Manti Te'o and safety Harrison Smith played more snaps than did Robinson).

Dever fell behind the pace due largely to a two-game mid-season stint missed after he suffered a hamstring strain in a win at Boston College. Missing from the 2010 unit is 5th-year senior Chris Stewart (756 snaps), who recently signed a free agent contract with the New York Jets.

Braxston Cave: 836
Zack Martin: 831
Trevor Robinson: 812
Taylor Dever: 593
Chris Watt: 117
Andrew Nuss: 51
Mike Golic: 25

By the numbers: Notre Dame averaged 4.0 yards-per-carry for the first time since 2003, but its 11 total rushing scores tied the second-lowest number in program history (2007). Of those 11 last season, only seven were scored by running backs as quarterback Dayne Crist led the team with four rushing touchdowns, despite appearing in just eight full games.

The Irish tied Bob Davie's BCS squad of 2000 for a decade-low 20 quarterback sacks allowed; a mere five of which occurred in the final five contests.


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