Class: Sophomore (Eligibility 4)
On the depth chart: No. 1B “behind” classmate Tommy Kraemer
Post-spring status: Ascending
A consensus four-star prospect and Scout.com’s 79th ranked player overall, Eichenberg was dubbed Notre Dame’s third-best pledge in Brian Kelly’s 2016 recruiting class.
Fortunately for Notre Dame’s future up front – but perhaps to detriment of Eichenberg’s playing time this fall – the purported “best” prospect among that 23-player crop was fellow right tackle competitor Tommy Kraemer.
One will start, the other will play, and both will join a quartet of returning starters for an offensive line that must improve greatly over its 2016 performance.
“He’s a stud. We’re just not going to play him this year. He’s a special player.” – Kelly on Eichenberg last fall.
BEST CASE SCENARIO
The consensus “1B” following spring ball, Eichenberg overtakes his classmate to start at right tackle. The benefit for Eichenberg is obvious; for Notre Dame, it might be that Kraemer begins his starting career in 2018 at tackle, or that he’s freed to work at both guard and tackle in reserve and he thus becomes an interior mainstay over the next three seasons in South Bend.
Regardless of who starts between them, both will likely get a chance to play competitive minutes in September as offensive line coach Harry Hiestand settles into what he wants for the duration from his group up front.
Conversely, could Eichenberg one day work at guard? According to his head coach, anything is possible: “Whatever he tells me,” said Kelly last October when asked what position the then true freshman could play. “I just say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and ‘thank you for being here.’”
WORST CASE SCENARIO
Neither Eichenberg nor Kraemer distinguish in August and the Irish are forced to move natural guard Alex Bars back to right tackle – the position at which he started 12 games to mixed reviews last fall – and Kraemer then wins the right guard role.
It would be a blow to Eichenberg because playing time behind Bars at right tackle would be minimal and – despite Kelly’s jovial hyperbole last fall – he has not worked at guard as much as has Kraemer and would thus be behind the learning curve.
Including the incoming crop, the Kelly Era has included a whopping 19 four-star prospects along the offensive front (though no 5-stars per Scout.com). At No. 79 overall in 2016, Eichenberg’s incoming status is commensurate with that of Mike McGlinchey (#90 in 2013) and Steven Elmer (#74).
In terms of size/frame, Eichenberg entered college in the 6’5” 280-pound range (he was listed at 6’6” 294 this spring). It’s a pure tackle’s body in the modern game and on par with former four-stars Christian Lombard and Taylor Dever.
Lombard appears an apt comparison to Eichenberg – a player best suited to play tackle but one that could help at guard as needed.