It wasn’t so much that Mike McGlinchey was part of the problem. It was more that the senior wasn’t a big enough part of the solution last fall when Notre Dame imploded in the most unexpected of losing seasons.
Following an off-season program autopsy that put virtually everything on the table except McGlinchey’s decision to come back for a fifth year, the future first round pick reconfigured both his goals and how he plans to achieve them.
Notre Dame should benefit on both counts.
“Expectations for the fifth year is going to come back and be the best offensive tackle in the country,” McGlinchey said. “That’s what I’m working for every single day. There’s not much left to say other than that.”
McGlinchey did say more after Notre Dame’s first spring practice, talking about last year’s plague of false starts, why the offensive line struggled, how Brian Kelly is different and how he’s different too. Turns out those false starts – McGlinchey counted a dozen of them – were a symbol of something bigger.
“I think the biggest improvement that I needed to make is not to do too much,” McGlinchey said. “I tried to spread myself across all areas where I think that affected me personally.
“I have to learn how to trust the people that are with me. And I think I’ve done that and I’ve improved on that and we’ve all taken the time to work on that together. It’s just trusting your teammates and saying what needs to be said when it needs to be said and doing what needs to done when it needs to be done.”
For all McGlinchey’s perceived struggles he still graded as a first-round pick last winter and could have been at the NFL Combine last weekend instead of in the Notre Dame weight room with Matt Balis. The new Irish strength coach has helped McGlinchey put on nearly 10 pounds – he’s listed at 6-foot-8 ?, 312 pounds – and boost his strength numbers.
Brian Kelly said McGlinchey’s bench reps at 225 pounds – the NFL Combine weight – jumped from 16 reps to 24 reps. To put that in perspective, a 16-rep performance at this year’s combine would have put McGlinchey 39th among offensive linemen. Just 40 worked out. A 24-rep workout would have ranked 16th and have matched Ronnie Stanley a year ago.
It’s all part of the reason why McGlinchey came back in the first place.
“Because I’m not going into the NFL to be a first rounder on paper,” McGlinchey said. “I want to be the best I could be when I get there. I’m setting myself up for a career there.
“Going in early or going in when you know you have so many areas that you can improve and become the best that you can be, I wasn’t in any position to want to go to the NFL. I want to be the best that I can be and learn from the best coach in the country. That’s all that went into that decision.”
As for McGlinchey’s leadership, he should also benefit from better followers.
Last year’s line was the least experienced of the Kelly era with just 27 collective starts. Now that number should jump to 75 career starts, with McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson, Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars all back. On Wednesday, Tommy Kraemer was the lone new starter, working at right tackle with Bars shifted to right guard.
“I don’t think that we played to our best capability last year,” McGlinchey said. “That’s something we need to improve on. At the same time we hung in there with three first-year guys and we hung in there tough. We got caught in a couple positions last year that we didn’t want to be in.”
That all may be a benefit now to McGlinchey, Notre Dame and even its head coach.
Kelly knows McGlinchey could have left this off-season, ready or not. An NFL team would have taken the tackle in the first two rounds. Instead, McGlinchey tabled those millions for an unpaid graduate season.
Kelly believes Notre Dame owes it to McGlinchey to make that all worth it.
“It’s a commitment to physically develop him, to mentally develop him as a captain and as a leader and then to develop his skill,” Kelly said. “This was kind of the deal, you come back, you finish off at Notre Dame, you help us win a championship and we’re gonna help develop you physically, we’re gonna help develop your leadership skills. As you help Notre Dame football, it’s also going to help your individually.”