A self-proclaimed Ohio State fan growing up, it wouldn’t have been a surprise had Jimmy Byrne – the St. Ignatius High School graduate from Cleveland – chosen the Buckeyes, particularly once Urban Meyer was named the head coach in Columbus.
But Byrne gravitated to Notre Dame and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, and during the second week of Notre Dame’s 2012 season, Byrne became verbal commitment No. 4 in the signing Class of 2014 that ultimately numbered 23. Byrne was one of 16 four-/five-star prospects in the class.
Not surprisingly, all four of Notre Dame’s offensive linemen who signed in February of 2014 preserved a year of eligibility, including even more highly-touted prospects Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars. This past spring, Byrne was unable to crack the two-deep chart at guard, working third-team behind Nelson and Bars on the left side while John Montelus and Colin McGovern took reps on the right side behind Steve Elmer.
If Nelson starts at left guard with Elmer automatically penciled in on the right side, that makes five guards currently ahead of Byrne, including Bars, John Montelus and Colin McGovern. Byrne needs to keep working on fine-tuning his physical conditioning and technique, and putting himself in a position of readiness should one of the guards be needed at tackle (Bars and McGovern the most likely), or if Elmer leaves after his third year in the program, although neither of those two scenarios seems likely. Byrne is, however, in the infancy stage of his career with four years of eligibility remaining.
Already chasing five guards with a combined 18 years of eligibility remaining, Byrne’s in a log jam at a very early stage of his collegiate career. It could get worse – although there’s no premise for the notion -- if incoming freshman interior offensive lineman Trevor Ruhland leapfrogs Byrne.
In 2009, the Irish signed four-star offensive guard Alex Bullard out of Brentwood, Tenn. Like Byrne coming out of high school, Bullard was Scout’s No. 1-ranked guard in his state and the No. 171 overall prospect. (Byrne was No. 211.)
Bullard was unable to crack the depth chart his first two years in the program with Byrne likely facing a similar situation. Bullard returned to his home state of Tennessee to help support his family following the passing of his father. He played three seasons with the Vols, starting 25 games and eventually signing an undrafted free-agent contract with the Detroit Lions.
Even though it almost always takes a couple of years before most three- and four-star offensive linemen begin to earn regular playing time on the collegiate level, Byrne has fallen behind the curve with five guards ahead of him in the pecking order. It’s a tough break, too, that the two most highly-touted of the young offensive linemen are Nelson and Bars, two of the top prospects during the spring of ’15 who are situated at guard.
To be determined.
“The one thing I noticed was even during warm-ups, Coach (Harry) Hiestand was still correcting their technique and stuff like that. This is one of the reasons I’ve said that I’ve been impressed with Coach Hiestand and how he’s a teacher. Here they are trying to prepare for a game and he’s still correcting their techniques. That’s the type of coach I want to play for.”
-- Jimmy Byrne after his ND commitment, prior to his arrival