It almost feels like Jimmy Byrne committed during a different era of Notre Dame football.
When the 6-foot-4, 300-pound prospect went Irish three-and-a-half years ago, Brian Kelly’s program was undefeated and beginning BCS National Championship Game practices. Byrne visited for a Saturday workout that early December and made the call after seeing Harry Hiestand in action. Since then Notre Dame football has included plenty of drama, but it’s also produced two first-round picks on the line and attracted tons of talent.
Ultimately, that last fact might have impacted Byrne’s career most as Quenton Nelson, Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher followed him in the commitment column. That group came after an equally acclaimed haul of Mike McGlinchey, Steve Elmer, John Montelus, Hunter Bivin and Colin McGovern.
With that much talent on hand not everybody can play. And through two years Byrne has been caught in that numbers game, working with the second team at best and running with the scout team at worst. Byrne still has three years of eligibility remaining, which means there’s opportunity for a breakthrough. But until Notre Dame starts running sets with seven offensive linemen it’s difficult to see how all that talent under Hiestand can get on the field.
Jimmy Byrne is next in Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z series.
The coaching staff cuts Byrne a break by returning him to guard where he belongs. It makes sense why Hiestand slotted Byrne at tackle during spring practice because Notre Dame was hurting for bodies. But tackle offers Byrne no serious chance of playing time and he has the skills to be a powerful left guard backing up Quenton Nelson. Remember, this was a prospect Notre Dame beat Ohio State for head-to-head and the Irish took him early. There’s material to mold, but Byrne’s future is at guard if he wants to develop into a frontline player.
Byrne can’t hold off Notre Dame’s young interior linemen, including freshman Parker Boudreaux and sophomore Trevor Ruhland. It appears the coaching staff already prefers Tristen Hoge based on spring practice. Basically, Byrne cannot fall behind any more younger players and hope to crack the lineup later in his career. This season may be less about earning time for Byrne than simply catching Hiestand’s eye in practice and taking advantage of two years experience in the program. If the staff keeps Byrne at tackle that wouldn’t represent a positive development either.
Notre Dame is loaded with offensive linemen who couldn’t crack the rotation but were valuable background parts. Mark Harrell is probably the best comparison for Byrne to date considering both red-shirted and didn’t see the field as sophomores. Harrell played in just two games as a junior and five games last fall, yet he was invited back as fifth-year depth. Byrne can ultimately climb higher than that in terms of playing time, but the parallels are there. Consider that both Harrell and Byrne were recruited as interior linemen yet practiced plenty at offensive tackle because of practice depth (meaning a lack of it). When Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg arrive this summer perhaps Byrne can shift inside where he belongs.
Development Vs. Recruiting Ranking
Scout ranked Byrne No. 211 overall, the highest of any recruiting service. Rivals ranked Byrne as a four-star prospect but outside its Top 250. ESPN and 247 both hung the three-star tag on the Ohio product. There was one bit of agreement among the services, though. Regardless of where Byrne was ranked, he was the fourth of four offensive linemen in Notre Dame’s class that cycle. Everybody had Nelson, Bars and Mustipher higher up the board. In terms of development vs. recruiting ranking, it feels like Byrne is still on track.
Byrne At His Best
TBD. Byrne was one of four juniors who didn’t see action last season as sophomores. But unlike Jay Hayes, Justin Brent and Corey Holmes, there was no red-shirt year to be gained. Byrne had already taken his. He was simply too far down the depth chart to get reps. Even with an opening at right guard, it’s still difficult to see how the Midwest product climbs the depth chart enough to make the rotation this season. Getting on the field is the first step.
Quote To Note
“He was an early offer for us and committed, and then really had a great senior year from our standpoint. Physical, moves his feet well, and again, I think what you'll see with all of our offensive linemen, they all can get out and move their feet. They all have the ability to run block, pass pro. We like our guys to move, whether we're running zone schemes or gap schemes, screens, all those things. You're going to see that there's an athletic component to all of these guys, and Jimmy certainly fits that, and really excited about him. He's a great student, great young man, and a great fit for Notre Dame.” – Brian Kelly on National Signing Day 2014