With starter Braxston Cave expected back by the conclusion of spring ball and his backup at center – fellow 5th-year senior Mike Golic likely in place – new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is now tasked with finding a duo, plus depth, for the right side of the front five.
"I think we've got four or five guys that can compete over there," head coach Brian Kelly said. "We'll even look at Mike Golic playing some center and guard. Obviously with Braxston out, he's going to have to do a lot of the center work. But I think you've got to count him in the mix.
"We like (Christian) Lombard; obviously he's a guy that can play guard or tackle, he's got that flexibility," Kelly continued of the junior (redshirt-sophomore) who lined up with the first unit at right guard on Wednesday. "Conor Hanratty had some time with us last year (on the varsity in practice as a backup guard), so he's certainly somebody that would be in the mix there, as well.
"Tate Nichols is back now," Kelly said of Lombard's classmate who sat out last season due to injury and was likewise withheld from action as a 2010 true freshman. Nichols lined up with the first unit at right tackle during the media's viewing period at the opening practice.
"(Redshirt-freshman) Jordan Prestwood will be in the mix," Kelly noted of Zack Martin's heir apparent on the left side. We really have been impressed with Nick Martin…I liked his off season, as well. We've got some guys there that we think can compete. And then I think there are some freshmen that could work their way into a two deep position, as well."
Both incoming freshmen, OT prospect Ronnie Stanley and soon-to-be-converted center Mark Harrell, will likely redshirt. But Stanley, like Hanratty and (Nick) Martin last season, could forge his way onto the two-deep depth chart and thus a spot with the varsity during practice over the course of the season.
Of the group above, only Golic and Lombard have played, with Golic earning the first four starts of his career in Cave's stead late last season.
Irisheyes.com's projected depth chart exiting spring ball: Knowing 13 more practices will bring about a great deal of change among the second unit competitors, and likely along the first unit's right side, here's my initial look before Stanley and Harrell join the fray over the summer.
Left Tackle: Zack Martin, Jordan Prestwood
Left Guard: Chris Watt, Conor Hanratty/Nick Marti/Mike Golic, Bruce Heggie/Brad Carrico
Center: Braxston Cave, Mike Golic, Matt Hegarty, Bruce Heggie
Right Guard: Christian Lombard, Nick Martin/Conor Hanratty/Mike Golic, Brad Carrico
Right Tackle: Tate Nichols, Nick Martin/Christian Lombard