Spring Wrap: Offensive Line

Our final position review of the Irish offense exiting spring ball looks at Notre Dame's offensive line. In this edition of our "Incomplete" series, O'Malley explains who stood out, who's a step behind, and what questions remain entering the summer with four incoming freshmen waiting to join the fray.

Offensive Line -- Three Must Emerge

The 10-player spring unit was rarely at full strength, with four from the group missing practice time over the five-week session. Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand's unit will boast 14 scholarship bodies, just two of which exhaust eligibility at season's end.

Spring Pecking Order: Both the first and second strings materialized as forecasted with (from left to right) Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Nick Martin, Conor Hanratty, and Christian Lombard making up the starting five, and Ronnie Stanley, Bruce Heggie, Matt Hegarty, Mark Harrell, and Steven Elmer in reserve.

Spring Star: There's no doubt its returning starter, three-time Guardian of the Year Award winner, and potential 2013 All-America Zack Martin. But the spring's MVP is doubtless the redshirt-sophomore Hanratty, who did yeoman work playing both first and second string guard for several practices as the group healed around him. Fall 2013 will be Hanratty's third as a member of the varsity (two-deep in practice) but his first with a shot at the starting right guard role.

Aid on the Way: A quartet of four stars in John Montelus (projected at guard), Hunter Bivin (will receive an initial evaluation at center), Colin McGovern (guard after playing tackle in high school) and Mike McGlinchey (tackle).

Remaining Spring Questions

Considering Hegarty is just months removed from heart surgery, did Nick Martin win the center position by default? Will there be a true camp battle for the role this August? Can the Irish afford to stick with one center in an effort to maintain continuity throughout the season, or will two be needed, often? When will Stanley be fully functional after December elbow surgery? Can the line still be a strength if Watt goes down for an extended period? Can the offense function at a bowl level (never mind BCS Bowl) if Zack Martin does the same?

Can January enrollee Steven Elmer preserve his first season of eligibility as part of a reserve unit that includes five linemen that have never played a meaningful down? Will any of the incoming foursome be likewise pressed into action? Or can the versatile (Nick) Martin occupy various spots to plug injury gaps, with Hegarty assuming the starting pivot role? Can redshirt-freshman Mark Harrell fend off the challenge of the promising Montelus as the first guard off the bench? Or would right tackle Christian Lombard shift inside, thus opening the door to Stanley at tackle?

Aside from Martin, Watt, and Lombard, is anything certain among the remaining 11 linemen entering August? The unit needs at least three first-time major players on which it can rely exiting August camp.

Final Thoughts

Head coach Brian Kelly and Hiestand will attempt to preserve a season of eligibility for their entire quintet of newcomers, Elmer included. What could press one of the group into action is an injury to either guard (Watt or Hanratty), as it's chain reaction (Lombard moving inside/Stanley in Lombard's stead), coupled with any resulting guard/tackle injury thereafter…No freshman should be forced to play center as the Irish go three-deep with N. Martin, Hegarty, and Harrell…Heggie remains a "program player," one crucial to filling out a two-deep in the spring and three-deep in the season, but he'd likely be the last player off the bench if the Irish are again in the running for a BCS Championship berth…Don't be shocked if Heggie gets scholarship #85 as a 5th-year player in 2014 for this reason, the program is too often caught short of bodies up front…

Zack Martin is the best player in the country few outside of South Bend talk about…Notre Dame can't win next year if he or Watt go down, the latter brings the power and punch no other current interior prospect possesses…Montelus could become the next Chris Watt (or better) as early as 2015, but he's not close to that level as an 18-year-old…The 2014 line will suffer a huge void when Martin leaves as the left side anchor after four standout seasons, either Stanley or McGlinchey must be ahead of schedule entering Spring 2014 as a result…

Christian Lombard must go from starter to standout this season for the offense to improve.

Next in the series: The team's defensive front...

Intro to Series

A key defensive line prospect. The nation's best high school linebacker. Two punters (phew!). The offense's quickest player. Two of the defense's three best cornerbacks. One of its three best inside linebackers. Two of its five best safety prospects. Two running backs capable of winning weekly roles. Two freshmen pass targets (one already on campus) capable of filling in at the back end of the rotation. Countless special teams contributors.

The list of potential -- and in many cases, certain -- 2013 commodities not involved in Saturday's quirky Blue Gold Game ranks as one of the spring game's most relevant stories, and leads to my final grade on head coach Brian Kelly's Irish as they exit a 15-session, five-week spring:


Just as it did in 2012 -- a national runner-up season and the best in 19 years for the program -- Notre Dame's 2013 football team will be made whole by its first-time scrimmage contributors.

That list last fall included major contributions from the likes of Tony Springmann, Danny Spond, Keivarae Russell, Matthias Farley, Sheldon Day, DaVaris Daniels, Daniel Smith, Chris Brown, Nicky Baratti, Elijah Shumate, and of course, Everett Golson.

"We're also going to bring in a number of freshmen that I'm certain are going to be involved in special teams, especially some of those bigger-bodied guys," said Kelly during his spring wrap-up press conference. "You've got (Michael) Deeb and (Doug) Randolph and Jaylon Smith and Max Redfield just to name a few. We've got some guys coming in, some DBs, in (Devin) Butler and (Rashad) Kinlaw. There is going to be an influx of talented guys that can help us in that area."

And from scrimmage as well, not only the freshmen, but those returning from injury, little-used players from 2012, and a host of others. The only guarantee for 2013 is that September's lot of key contributors will differ -- perhaps greatly -- from November's.

Over the next three days at Irisheyes.com we'll conclude our review of spring ball 2013 with a position-by-position look at where each unit stands, and from who it will receive aid in August camp and throughout 2013.

For our review of the running backs, Click here. For the wide receivers, Click here. Our recap of the tight ends can be found here and our breakdown of the quarterback quartet, here.

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