Position Competition: Right Tackle

Irisheyes.com continues its look at nine spring competitions that will help determine starting roles next fall. Second in our series: Right Tackle, a spot vacated by two-year starter Taylor Dever.

Click here for our series introduction and a look at the competition for the field cornerback spot.

In addition to quarterback and field cornerback (referenced in the link above), included in our forthcoming competition previews are the following: Dog linebacker, the third and fourth wide receivers, Cat linebacker, right tackle, right guard, and place-kicker.

(Unless otherwise noted, all players' class designations are referenced in terms of 2012, not last season).

Spring Position Competition #2 – Right Tackle

Barring injury, senior Zack Martin will again start 13 (or is it 14?) games next fall, bringing his three-year total to nearly 40 consecutive starts at the conclusion of 2012. Martin has a 5th-year option for 2013, which means left tackle is on lock down for one, if not two more years in South Bend.

Right tackle, conversely, appears wide open, with two key competitors for the starting role this spring; the third non-freshman competitor likely to backup Martin on the left side in the fall.

Leading the pack at present is junior-to-be Christian Lombard. The 6'5" 300-pounder from Lombard, Ill., was Scout.com's No.2 ranked OT prospect in the 2010 class. Like his classmate and position twin Tate Nichols, Lombard red-shirted as a freshman and is thus eligible through the 2014 season. Lombard appeared in all 13 games last season, though the total is misleading as most appearances included a role as a punt return protector for Ben Turk.

In reality, Lombard played far less, at least in competitive games, than expected as the No. 7 offensive lineman (five starters plus Andrew Nuss). Of course, 13 games on the field and extended time from scrimmage in blowouts makes Lombard a grizzled veteran in comparison to the aforementioned Nichols. After red-shirting in 2010, Nichols push for two-deep duty last August ended with a mid-month knee injury (dislocation). After a quick recovery that put him on the travel roster for Week Two at Michigan, Nichols' season was lost to a shoulder injury that required late September surgery.

Two years into his Irish tenure, Nichols, the biggest player on the team at 6'8" 320, has yet to see the field on Saturdays. In a head-to-head competition, Lombard would appear to have the early edge, though the 15-practice spring session will be a time to embrace both the physical nature of the position while filling the role Dever occupied so well for two years: a second-level blocker in the run game and strong-side protector for the quarterback of choice in the pocket.

Spring (Crystal) Ball

Kelly noted in late November that with the exception of Prestwood, the remaining freshman offensive linemen (Nick Martin, Matt Hegarty, Brad Carrico, and Conor Hanratty) were "inside guys" meaning G/C. Though that's likely a fluid situation, the redshirt-freshman Prestwood remains the most likely candidate to backup the starter Martin on the left side, leaving classmates Lombard and Nichols to Duke it out for the right tackle spot.

(Barely) Educated Spring Guesses for the Right Tackle Role: Lombard's field experience and familiarity with the varsity gives him a leg up on the relative rookie Nichols after 15 spring practices, but picking a right tackle starter from the tandem prior to August seems unnecessary. Nichols' physical presence could force a move inside for Lombard who should at least receive an evaluation at the open right guard spot in an effort to potentially put the team's five "best" linemen on the field simultaneously.

The issue therein: we're not sure if Nichols or even Lombard could be considered as such after the team's impressive recruiting haul of 2011.

Coach's Quote to Note: "I think we felt comfortable if (Andrew) Nuss had to go in or Lombard had to go in or Golic. I felt like we had eight (capable veterans), and if Tate Nichols didn't get hurt, we felt like we had nine guys that could go in and play winning football for us. Championship football? Not sure."

--Irish head coach Brian Kelly in a late-season 2011 evaluation of his backup front line


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