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Lugg brings experience back to Notre Dame offensive line in 2022, but further OL questions remain up in the air

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 11 Toledo at Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 11: Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive lineman Josh Lugg (75) battles with Toledo Rockets linebacker Jamal Hines (91) during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Toledo Rockets on September 11, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium, in South Bend, IN. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One piece of Notre Dame’s offensive line will return for a bonus year thanks to the universal eligibility waiver during the pandemic. Another has yet to announce a decision on returning. And if center Jarrett Patterson does choose to join Josh Lugg with the Irish in 2022, they will reportedly both be coached by a new position coach.

Lugg made his decision known on Instagram on Monday, writing “I am because of us. FTB (For The Brotherhood) Year 6.” He has appeared in 48 games in his career, starting 20, including 12 starts this season before a meniscus injury cost the right tackle the Fiesta Bowl.

Lugg has openly said he would consider changing positions if he returned for a pandemic-possible sixth season. After the performance put forth by freshmen Joe Alt (left tackle) and Blake Fisher (right tackle) in the Fiesta Bowl, part of an offensive line that gave up only two sacks on 70 dropbacks against the best pass-rushing front in the country, Lugg likely knows such a move is now expected of him. Alt and Fisher will man the edges while Lugg steps in at guard, where he spent the 2019 and 2020 seasons as a reserve and spot starter. With junior Andrew Kristofic developing some chemistry at guard alongside Alt on the left side in the second half of this season, logic suggests Lugg will work at right guard, specifically.

With Lugg’s return, Notre Dame is now looking at 40 returning starts in 2022 with another 34 possible if Patterson chooses a fifth collegiate season. He could very well be a second- or third-round draft pick currently.

For context, the Irish returned 31 career starts entering 2021 before Cain Madden added 31 starts at Marshall.

Multiple reports Monday indicated Notre Dame has parted ways with offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, something that has been widely expected since Brian Kelly bolted for LSU and Marcus Freeman was promoted to head coach in early December. Quinn joined Kelly’s staff as an offensive analyst in 2015 and moved up to offensive line coach in 2018. Patterson was, in fact, his first recruit as an Irish assistant.

Quinn’s recruiting never lacked, but the offensive line’s slow starts to seasons — most notably in 2020 and 2021 — frustrated many, oftentimes including those very offensive linemen. Lugg, in particular, was openly frustrated with the unit’s play to start this season, though he put that blame on himself and the players, never on Quinn.

“Last time I talked to all of you was before Wisconsin (in late September), and I talked about the details that we needed to clean up, and that some of our mistakes we were making, it wasn’t all five guys having catastrophic balks,” Lugg said in the days before Notre Dame’s regular-season finale. “It was one or two of us and the details that we needed to clean up.

“As the season progresses, we’re all communicating with each other and seeing things through one set of eyes better. Those details that we really wanted to clean up are getting cleaned up.”

Persistent rumors for the last few weeks have suggested former Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand will return in that role after coaching the Chicago Bears offensive line in 2018 and 2019, but that has not been confirmed as done by any reputable outlet as of early Tuesday afternoon.

His return, though, could encourage Patterson to do so, as well. Though he never played under Hiestand, Patterson’s recruitment began via communication with Hiestand and he is assuredly aware of Hiestand’s reputation of focusing on the position’s fundamentals and fine-tuning.

Add the sophomore cornerback to the list of outgoing transfers. The former three-star recruit saw action in four games across the last two seasons.

Offord is the sixth player to enter the transfer portal since the season ended.

NFL-bound with eligibility remaining: Safety Kyle Hamilton, running back Kyren Williams, receiver Kevin Austin.Returning after pondering the NFL: Receiver Braden Lenzy, safety Houston Griffith, offensive lineman Josh Lugg.Expected to transfer out: Safety Khari Gee, linebacker Shayne Simon, punter Jay Bramblett, linebacker Paul Moala, offensive lineman Quinn Carroll, cornerback Caleb Offord.

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