Future Tense: Irish OL

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has re-stocked his program's offensive line to the point where it's a definitive program strength, both entering 2014 and for future seasons. With four more OL prospects already on board for the current recruiting cycle, how important is it for the Irish to add a (top tier) fifth? Who'll win starting jobs in the spring? We preview all things OL inside.

2014 Outlook: Offensive Linemen

Barring a late defection, Notre Dame will open the season with at least 15 scholarship offensive linemen, a first for the Brian Kelly era.

Departures from 2013: 5th-year senior tackle Zack Martin (a program-record 52 career starts) and 5th-year senior guard Chris Watt (37 career starts in his final 39 games, missing two due to injury).

5th-year prospects: G/T Christian Lombard (likely), G/C Bruce Heggie (unlikely/pending scholarship availability)

Seniors (Each eligible through 2015): C Nick Martin, C/G Matt Hegarty, G Conor Hanratty

Juniors (Both eligible through 2016): T Ronnie Stanley, G/C Mark Harrell

Sophomores: G/T Steve Elmer (20116), T Mike McGlinchey (2017), G/C Hunter Bivin (2017), G/C John Montelus (2017), G Colin McGovern

Incoming Freshmen: C/G Sam Mustipher, T Alex Bars, T/G Quenton Nelson, Jimmy Byrne (G/T)

Potential 2014 Class Addition: Braden Smith (Olathe, Kansas). A five-star prospect and currently ranked as the No. 2 offensive tackle in the 2014 class, Smith will visit Notre Dame on January 17th, Texas A&M on January 24, and TCU on February 1. He reportedly favors TCU.

2014 Forecast

The loss of 5th-year senior captain Zack Martin cannot be overstated, but Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand have ample prospects in place.

Spring 2014 should feature heavy competition at left tackle (Mike McGlinchey vs. Steve Elmer?), left tackle (Conor Hanratty vs. ), center (Nick Martin vs. Matt Hegarty), right guard (Elmer vs. Lombard), and potentially even right tackle (Ronnie Stanley vs. Elmer vs. Lombard -- Stanley could battle McGlinchey/Elmer at left tackle as well).

From that group, there are seven potential starters: Martin, Stanley, Elmer, Lombard, Hanratty, McGlinchey, and Hegarty. (With 9 months before the conclusion of August camp, a surprise from the rest of the ranks isn't out of the question.)

On the recruiting front, though Braden Smith is viewed as a "luxury addition" considering the program's inclusion of nine offensive linemen in the last two cycles (2013-14), the addition of a 5-star lineman, on either side of scrimmage, is anything but superfluous for a program that can only compete at the highest level with dominant fronts.

Smith should be considered 1A to safety Juju Smith as the most important player Notre Dame could reasonably add to this class.

To further illustrate the need for as many quality lineman as reasonable in any recruiting class, consider the following: In the first three seasons of the Brian Kelly era, Notre Dame lost, to either transfer or career-ending injury, Aaron Lynch, Brad Carrico, Tate Nichols, and Jordan Prestwood; the services of Chase Hounshell for two full seasons due to injury, the services of Tony Springmann this season due to injury, and was stunned by the tragic death of Matt James.

Junior Stephon Tuitt could add to that attrition with an early departure -- prior to graduation and exhaustion of eligibility -- to the NFL.

Of Kelly's four classes, only the 2013 freshmen remain intact along the line of scrimmage to date. Adding to the need for numbers, neither John Montelus nor Colin McGovern was available to contribute for the bulk of their first season (though McGovern has since recovered and competed in practice since).

Injuries and attrition are guaranteed among the Power portion of Kelly's recruiting profiles. It's unavoidable with brutal contact on every snap.

The full-court press should be put on for Smith -- competition and attrition will doubtless follow should he join the fray.

May the best men -- and therefore the Irish -- win.

OL Grades: 2013: B+...2014 B+ … 2015-2016 A+

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