Offensive LineThe left side is set with a pair of potential standouts: senior left tackle Zack Martin (I gave Martin one of my two third-team All-America votes last season) and senior left guard Chris Watt, the team's second-best offensive lineman per Irisheyes.com last fall…Both have a season remaining past 2012, should they stay, the front wall could be at an all-star level in '13…Nevertheless, 5th-year pivot Braxston Cave is the key to the '12 line's success. The group went from stalwart to shaky with Cave out of the lineup vs. Maryland, Boston College, Stanford, and Florida State last fall. His power at the point and experience can't be replaced…
The line's right side entered the spring wide open and exited with a "three-to-make-two" situation. Redshirt-freshman guard Nick Martin and 5th-year senior Mike Golic will battle for the starting RG spot. Should Golic cede the spot he'd likely serve as the team's swingman: backup at both center and right guard. Junior Christian Lombard surged ahead of classmate Tate Nichols for the starting right tackle spot late in camp. Lombard had been working at right guard as well (as late as April 2) before apparently cementing the lead exiting spring ball.
The second unit appears to align as follows:
Comments and Questions: Golic or Martin will likely earn the most playing time as the true sixth-man with Prestwood, by virtue of the player in from of him, earning the least… If he's not a starter, will Golic backup both guard spots or is redshirt-freshman Conor Hanratty – one of two true freshman on the varsity two-deep last season – trusted to come in to give Watt the occasional breather? Could Nichols, the team's biggest player at 6'8" 325 but also a former high school tight end, join the fray in a jumbo package near the goal line?
After a nondescript spring and shaky Blue Gold game, is redshirt-freshman Matt Hegarty still the center of the future or would he be better served in (heavier) competition at tackle, his natural position? Has Carrico, a 2011 early enrollee, fallen too far behind his classmates to see the field in 2012? Can he push his way onto the two-deep at guard in 2013?
Martin's only poor game last fall was at Stanford. Can he become a dominant player against the likes of the Cardinal and the three/four other BCS-bowl level teams the Irish face next fall? Will Cave be ready to roll in August? Will the staff trust more than six players as it did last season for playing time in competitive contests (of which there could be as many as 10)?
Top Dog: Zack Martin
Indispensable: Braxston Cave
BCS Bowl Level Performers: Martin, Chris Watt and Braxston Cave
Most Important that he Improve from 2011: Mike Golic, Jr.
Spring Star: Christian Lombard
August/September Sleepers: Tate Nichols and Nick Martin
Quote to Note: "He's a guy that loves football. He's a tremendously determined young man and very, very physical player. He enjoys getting after people's butts, and he embraces that part of the game."
– New offensive line coach, Harry Hiestand on left guard Chris Watt.
Roster RundownHiestand will have 14 scholarship players available for the beginning of August training camp. Entering 2013, that number will swell to between 15-17 pending 5th-year applicants Martin and Watt.
5th-years: Braxston Cave and Mike Golic, Jr.
Seniors (Eligible through 2013): Zack Martin and Chris Watt
Juniors (Eligible through 2014): Bruce Heggie, Christian Lombard, and Tate Nichols
Sophomores (Eligible through 2015): Brad Carrico, Conor Hanratty, Matt Hegarty, Nick Martin, Jordan Prestwood
Incoming Freshmen (Eligible through 2016): Mark Harrell and Ronnie Stanley
2013 Offensive Line Pledges: Hunter Bivin, Steve Elmer, Colin McGovern, Mike McGlinchey, John Montelus.