With Notre Dame beginning spring practice this month, we're previewing each Irish unit leading up to March 16. Today, it's a group that's looking to re-start the "Tight End U" legacy in South Bend (each player's 2016 status listed in parentheses).
(These go LT-LG-C-RG-RT)
1. Mike McGlinchey (RS Junior)
2. Mark Harrell (Graduate Student)
1. Quenton Nelson (RS Sophomore)
2. Trevor Ruhland (RS Freshman)
1. Tristen Hoge (RS Freshman)
1A. Sam Mustipher (RS Sophomore)
1A. Colin McGovern (RS Junior)
1B. John Montelus (RS Junior)
1C. Jimmy Byrne (RS Sophomore)
1D. Trevor Ruhland (RS Freshman)
1. Hunter Bivin (RS Junior)
2. Mark Harrell (Graduate Student)
Injured: Alex Bars (RS Sophomore)
Two things make projecting Notre Dame’s offensive line depth chart difficult: 1) The lack of a clear option to replace Steve Elmer at right guard and 2) The fractured/dislocated ankle Bars suffered against USC last October. Bars is likely to start somewhere on Notre Dame’s offensive line in 2016, but given he probably won’t be a full participant in spring practice, he’s an unknown. He could play tackle — most likely on the right side — or slide inside to replace Elmer at guard.
Moving McGlinchey to left tackle makes plenty of sense — Notre Dame could pair him there with Nelson, the only other offensive linemen in this group with at least five starts, to keep the left side of the line strong.
That leaves a wide-open group of players at right guard this spring. We’ve seen Montelus working with Notre Dame’s defensive line group in some workout videos posted on social media in February, so perhaps he’s out of the equation, though we won’t get anything official on that until coach Brian Kelly meets with the media March 15. The players at that position in this hypothetical depth chart are ranked based on seniority, but any of them could wind up separating from the group in March and April.
What could influence Bars’ landing spot is how that group performs at right guard this spring. If one of them emerges as someone who offensive line coach Harry Hiestand thinks could hold his own, it could push Bars to tackle. But if there’s doubt, Bars could parachute in at guard and solidify that position.
Of course, that’s contingent on Bivin and Harrell — who looks likely to be a fifth-year player — holding their own at tackle during spring practice. Both are veterans, but neither have been able to push for playing time. Harrell has versatility, having been moved to tackle last year after beginning his time in South Bend as a backup center.
So Harrell could, in theory, fit at center too. Hoge and Mustipher, though, will compete there to replace Nick Martin.
The only player on this list who is likely to stay at the same position he played in 2015 is Nelson, who looks entrenched at left guard. For what it’s worth, Nelson posted a photo of McGlinchey and him to his Instagram account in late February that the pair are “going to kick a lot of ass the next couple years,” seemingly foretelling a McGlinchey move to left tackle.
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Notre Dame won’t come close to settling on a starting five during spring practice, but it can start whittling the group of competitors with an eye on preseason camp in August. Expect Hiestand, Kelly & Co. to decide on a group of starters sometime in mid-August, right around when preparations for the season-opener at Texas begin.
The trio of four-star recruits Notre Dame signed last month could factor in positional battles, especially given Notre Dame’s penchant for moving high school tackles to guard once they get on campus. Parker Boudreaux (Orlando, Fla.), Liam Eichenberg (Cleveland, Ohio) and Tommy Kraemer (Cincinnati, Ohio) will each have an opportunity to push up the depth chart over the summer, though Notre Dame would prefer to slap a redshirt on each. The most recent offensive lineman to play as a freshman was Elmer, though he enrolled early in 2013.