Even in the middle of a redshirt freshman season, lineman Alex Bars made sure that he’d be among the leaders in his class expected to become impact players. As the Irish were preparing for the Music City Bowl, head coach Brian Kelly singled out Bars’ performance—hopefully a sign of very good things to come.
“Alex Bars is one of the best I’ve seen in 25 years. He’s that good. Those guys ought to be nervous about whose job he’s going to take,” Kelly said. “He’s that good of a player. If there’s one offensive player I can point to, Alex Bars clearly is the guy that stands out on offense.”
Fast-forward six months and Bars is already making his move up the depth chart. While Ronnie Stanley’s return has the left tackle position spoken for, Bars will join a rotation this fall with fellow sophomore Quenton Nelson at guard, getting his talent on the field with four seasons of eligibility remaining.
Let’s take a closer look at Alex Bars.
6'6", 316 lbs.
Soph., No. 71, OL
A top-100 player with elite recruiting offers. Bars chose Notre Dame over Florida State, Michigan, Ohio State, Stanford—and a host of other schools. Bars was an Under Armour All-American, a USA Today All-American, and the Rotary Lombardi Chip Off the Old Block Award winner, given to the South’s best lineman.
By every measure, the Irish legacy (father Joe played linebacker for the Irish in the early-80s) was an elite recruit.
Freshman Season (2014): Saved a year of eligibility and did not participate.
WHAT WE PROJECTED LAST YEARLooks like the Crystal Ball was pretty in focus last year, though the departure of Matt Hegarty and Christian Lombard, not to mention the decision to keep Steve Elmer at guard, forces you to flip-flop the early playing assignment:
It’s getting clear that under Hiestand and Kelly, the best five linemen play. The past two seasons, they’ve shifted players to make that happen. So if Bars works his way into that conversation soon, he might find a role at right guard, where Christian Lombard departs. Nick Martin is the next lineman off the board after 2015, and at that point you begin to wonder what the optimum number is for the depth chart, with some fifth year options coming up that could be telling.
That Bars is in South Bend and not anywhere else tells you that he’s a prospect that this Irish coaching staff truly coveted. But he’ll likely spend his freshman season learning the ropes and hitting the weight room, as most freshman offensive linemen should. If Mike McGlinchey struggles at right tackle, Bars will challenge for the job in a year or two. Otherwise he could break into the rotation at guard before shifting outside to tackle during his junior and senior seasons.
Bars is right on schedule, or at least the schedule we assigned him.
I’d be shocked if Bars wasn’t Notre Dame’s next left tackle. And as we’ve seen from the last two to play there, that’s saying quite a bit.
That being said, I don’t want to dampen the spirits of those that are expecting Bars to be an instant star, but his play this season will likely dictate how quickly he ascends to the level of standout. As we saw with Steve Elmer, sometimes a guy who looks like a no-brainer at tackle doesn’t necessarily fit there—especially after getting his first bit of playing time at guard.
But there’s no reason to think that Bars and Elmer are the same type of athlete. And all reports have Bars more than capable of handling the edge. So if he’s able to make an impact taking his snaps at guard, a position where Kelly and Harry Hiestand want maulers, he’ll certainly be ready to slide outside come 2016.
Sharing time isn’t easy, especially on the offensive line. But Kelly was adamant this spring that he’ll need to find snaps for Bars to make sure his development continues, and sharing time with Quenton Nelson makes the most sense.
Of course, injuries also happen. And right now, it looks like Bars is the No. 1 replacement at every spot but center. So while a clean bill of health will likely be best for the best Irish offensive line of the Kelly era, an injury will likely just mean more time for the talented second-year player to make his mark, a nice benefit of the impressive depth chart the Irish have assembled.