It took a minute to identify that starting right guard.
That’s because during Notre Dame’s fifth spring practice the player running there rolled up his jersey so much that the fashion choice made his number unreadable. And that turned the media’s observation period into a process of elimination.
It wasn’t Hunter Bivin or Alex Bars, both working at right tackle on the first and second teams. It wasn’t Colin McGovern, who opened spring as the starting right guard but was out with a concussion. That only left Tristen Hoge, the sophomore interior option coming off a red shirt.
It couldn’t anybody else. Because there isn’t anybody else.
“It’s really those four guys and trying to figure out what the best movement is,” said head coach Brian Kelly. “They’re all competing. They’re all working. They’re all doing good things.”
Notre Dame opened spring in need of three new starters along the line. In the first week it’s nailed down one in center Sam Mustipher, who Kelly called “solid” and didn’t even mention as in competition with anybody else to replace Nick Martin.
Where things remain interesting is right guard and right tackle, two spots where the Irish have some flexibility but not too much of it. Bars could ultimately win either job once fully healthy from last season’s broken ankle suffered against USC. It’s difficult to see him not in the starting lineup in Austin. But Bars is the only player who could play both spots in Kelly’s mind.
McGovern and Hoge are guards. Bivin is a tackle. That’s about as versatile as those three can get, although Hoge has been mentioned as a possible center too.
“Those four guys are kind of battling it out on the right side,” Kelly said. “The left side is pretty much set over there as you can imagine with Quenton (Nelson) and (Mike) McGlinchey.”
Considering Notre Dame returns just 27 career starts on the offensive line following the departures of Martin, Ronnie Stanley and Steve Elmer, the Irish could use practice experience even if they don’t have much in game scenarios. Hoge is coming off that red shirt while Bivin and McGovern haven’t logged meaningful snaps in their first three seasons.
However, Bivin and McGovern have been around Notre Dame long enough that they understand the routine. Both took red-shirts as freshmen in the banner offensive line haul of 2013 that included Elmer, McGlinchey and John Montelus, now a defensive tackle. All were four-star prospects on Scout.com.
McGovern, who’s battled injuries during his career, seemed to have the best shot at winning the right guard job when spring opened, which would kick Bars out to right tackle. Kelly still likes what he has in the senior, even if the Chicagoland product didn’t get to show it Wednesday.
Kelly expects McGovern back after Easter break.
Despite missing time this spring McGovern has tested well in the weight room, where Kelly said the career reserve posted at least 22 reps on the bench press to go with a 26-inch vertical jump. His hurdles have been more injury-related, including some knee issues dating back to high school.
“He moves well, he’s athletic,” Kelly said. “He’s got all the numbers. It was some of the things physically that kept him off the field. When you can keep him on the field, he’s got a fighting chance.”