Christian Lombard's back had been a nagging issue for the senior offensive guard since late April, and it wasn't getting better. Following a win over USC in South Bend, the pain finally made him stop.
"It came on after spring ball (2013). I didn't really know what it was until some of the symptoms connected the dots. It didn't get worse for awhile and then at a certain point it started going downhill," Lombard admitted of a since-repaired herniated disc. "It was one of those nagging injuries I had to fight through and it finally gave in. After that USC game, I couldn't go anymore, that was it.'
Lombard had surgery, didn't travel with his teammates to Air Force on October 26 and never again made a rode trip with the squad, though he was able to watch home games from the sidelines.
Football work would have to wait, but Lombard made sure to keep moving. Five months post-surgery, he's ready to roll, though the summer will doubtless aid strength gain for the 2014 season.
"I couldn't lift for a couple of months," he said. "I was doing movement stuff right after surgery. I wasn't bound to a bed. I was pretty active.
"I don't have to worry about injuries or anything like that now. I just need to worry about getting better. It's just getting back into football shape."
As for his lifting regimen? "Smarter, a lot more core strength, stabilization," he said.
Lombard serves as the lone holdover from the 2012 OL
Lombard began spring practice 2014 back at right guard. He could play tackle if needed, and like fellow versatile front wall competitor Steve Elmer, likely will move around often over the next 13 practice sessions.
"We only have 10 guys, so we're going to be shuffling in and out," said Lombard of the annual reality of the spring practice when a line is bereft of its incoming freshmen (and usually has combatants recovering from season surgeries.) "We don't really have a set lineup at this point. There are a lot of young guys, so we're just trying to see who fits best at what position.
"We'll have some more guys in there for the upcoming season. We'll have some real depth. But like I said, worrying about positions isn't the main thing right now. We're just worrying about fundamentals and playing football."
Lombard has been a guard for the better part of 13 months. He was a tackle for the 12-1 Irish in 2012 but it's the former where he thinks he'll remain. Not that it matters. He'll line up anywhere, and after a frustrating six games away from his teammates, the 5th-year senior is excited to have a certain signal-caller behind him.
"We definitely missed him, not to take anything away from the quarterback (Tommy Rees) last year," said Lombard when asked about the return of Everett Golson. "He's a leader, he's a vocal guy, and we definitely need him."
Golson needs a healthy Lombard as well, the only returning member of the 2012 crew -- one that will likely struggle to replace departed left-side stalwarts Zack Martin (52 starts/4 Guardian of the Year awards) and Chris Watt (38 starts in 39 games, one missed due to injury) -- Lombard is now the dean of a promising but evolving offensive front.
"It's definitely different, just from the standpoint of not having two good friends next to you off the field and on the field," said Lombard. "They've moved on and they're making a career for themselves. It's part of life. I'm not a big talker by nature, but it's something that I have to evolve into and start to do."