The 2015 Notre Dame offensive line has already lost its backup left guard, backup right guard, and backup center, and head coach Brian Kelly's Irish have yet to execute a spring snap.
The above is the collective end-result of potential fifth-year senior Matt Hegarty's decision to transfer from the program. Hegarty told ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna Wednesday, "Recently my coaches informed me that they wanted me to change positions. They also explained that with many younger players in the wings, they wanted to develop them more heavily in the rotation — a need that I understand and appreciate.
"My goal is to contribute this season, continue to develop my skills and pursue my dream of playing in the NFL. Because of this goal, I have asked for a transfer to play at another school where I can contribute more on the field."
Hegarty started the season's final 11 games last fall, the last 10 at center after classmate and team captain Nick Martin suffered torn ligaments in his thumb, making it difficult to snap the football. Martin shifted to guard as a result, and it's clear Hegarty preferred that alignment rather than a move back to the left guard slot.
The silver lining of Hegarty's departure is that redshirt-freshman guard Quenton Nelson is apparently ahead of schedule. He had either pulled ahead of Hegarty in the offensive guard pecking order, or was close enough as a promising guard prospect that Hegarty saw the writing on the wall over the ensuing months.
Competition would be the order of the day.
To the staff's credit, it appears they were forthright with Hegarty, and a result he'll pursue his NFL dream elsewhere -- as a Notre Dame graduate. He is eligible to play immediately.
“Notre Dame has amassed formidable depth on the O-line and has many very talented players to fill all positions," he said.
However, none of those players among the backup ranks have played a meaningful down from scrimmage:
-- Senior center/guard Mark Harrell served the first two games of 2014 as a punt protector, one of three blockers offset from the line in front of punter Kyle Brindza. Harrell's first snap was near the conclusion of the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl when Conor Hanratty was lost to a concussion. (Two subsequent concussions purportedly ended Hanratty's career. Projected to be a backup guard in a potential fifth season of eligibility for 2015, Hanratty decided not to continue his football career.)
-- Junior tackle/guard Hunter Bivin played in five of the first seven games last fall as a member of the field goal unit and reserve tackle. He did not appear in any of the final six contests due to an undisclosed injury.
-- Junior guard Colin McGovern missed much of his freshman season -- including practice -- due to November knee surgery as a high school senior. He was lauded by Kelly for his improvement from that point through the conclusion of spring practice 2014 but McGovern appeared in just the two opening games of the season, both in blowout situations.
-- Junior guard John Montelus made his first career appearance in the 31-0 blowout of Michigan last September. He missed his 2013 freshman season (not often practicing with contact) due to shoulder surgery following his high school career and significant subsequent weight gain. (Montelus dropped from a listed 345 in fall 2014 to 320 last August.)
-- Sophomores Jimmy Byrne (guard), Alex Bars (tackle), Sam Mustipher (center/guard), and the aforementioned Nelson redshirted last fall. Incoming freshmen include Tristen Hoge (a center prospect) and Trevor Ruhland (guard).
-- Four-star offensive tackle prospect and January 2015 enrollee Jerry Tillery appears set to begin his Irish career on the defensive front.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A SIXTH MAN
More than five starters up front have been a necessity during the five-season Kelly era with one notable exception -- the championship run of 2012.
2014 -- Seven offensive linemen started with injuries to starting center Nick Martin (moved to guard) and Christian Lombard (out vs. LSU). Hegarty began the year as Conor Hanratty's backup at guard before moving into the lineup at center with Martin displacing Hanratty. Mike McGlinchey started at right tackle in the Music City Bowl in Lombard's stead.
2013 -- Eight offensive linemen started including Hegarty (2) and both Elmer (4) and Hanratty (4) as the Irish lost left guard Chris Watt (two games) and right guard Christian Lombard (six) to injury during the second half of the season.
2012 -- Notre Dame's starting quintet began and finished the season together with 13 starts apiece. Nick Martin was the de facto "sixth man" -- the No. 1 backup at both tackle and guard -- though he was never pressed into a starting role. He entered during a crucial time of the contest at USC when his brother Zack was lost to injury on Notre Dame's final scoring drive.
2011 -- Six offensive linemen started with center Braxston Cave lost for the season's final four contests. He was replaced by Mike Golic, Jr., who shifted to guard in 2012. The only backup aside from Golic to play regularly was Christian Lombard (13 games, no starts).
2010 -- Six started with senior Matt Romine -- beat out during Brian Kelly's initial spring session by redshirt-freshman Zack Martin -- subbing on the right side for classmate Taylor Dever.
The sixth man role is wide open for Kelly's Irish in 2015. Competition, we now know, is the only guarantee.