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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 54 Blake Fisher, junior right tackle, second-year starter


Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Listed measurements: 6-foot-6, 310 pounds.
2023-24 year, eligibility: A junior, Fisher has three seasons of eligibility remaining.
Depth Chart: Fisher will start for Notre Dame at right tackle, his third of three seasons starting for the Irish in their season opener (barring any preseason calamity). That remains worth mentioning as Fisher was only the second freshman to ever start a season opener on Notre Dame’s offensive line.
Recruiting: considered Fisher a five-star prospect, the singular such player on the Irish roster the last two seasons. Unsurprisingly, he thus could have gone to just about any program, but instead the Indiana native and All-American hardly considered anywhere but his homestate’s most famous football program, serving as the class of 2021’s unofficial lead recruiter, nicknamed “The Mayor.”

When Fisher started the 2021 season opener at left tackle at Florida State, he joined Sam Young (in 2006) as the only freshmen to ever do so on the Irish offensive line. Then Fisher was injured by halftime. A torn meniscus cost him the rest of the regular season before he stepped in for Josh Lugg in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State. Flipping to right tackle with only bowl practices to get up to speed on not only his new position and the Cowboys’ nation-leading pass rush but also on all that he missed on the field in the preceding three-plus months, Fisher still proceeded to hold his own; on 70 dropbacks, Notre Dame gave up just two sacks despite starting two freshmen tackles.

That performance forced Lugg into right guard for his final collegiate season, and Fisher started all 13 games in 2022 at right tackle, bookending the line all year with classmate Joe Alt.

2021: 2 games, 2 starts.
2022: 13 games, 13 starts.

It should once again be noted how idiotic the NCAA was to forbid players from working as coaches in summer camps for high schoolers, just as it was idiotic to push back against players doing community service work at the behest of someone else’s dime, as is the case with the entire Irish roster due to the Friends of the University of Notre Dame (FUND) Foundation.

Pointing out the Irish are on their third offensive line coach in three years is really just pointing out that Harry Hiestand returned for only one season. For that matter, Jeff Quinn had been on Brian Kelly’s analyst staff for years when he moved into the offensive line role (both succeeding and preceding Hiestand). The coaching turnover has not been as drastic as that “three coaches in three years” truth makes it sound.

Nonetheless, it is a reality. And as that turnover has occurred and occurred again, Notre Dame has relied on the culture instilled in the offensive line room during Hiestand’s first tenure to be sure as little changes as possible. Lugg was in that room for both Hiestand stints, continuity did exist. The messages he preached came to him from Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson and Sam Mustipher. They learned things from Ronnie Stanley who drew from Nick and Zack Martin.

Fisher has focused on carrying all that forward yet, now under position coach Joe Rudolph.

“There’s a standard that has been set here, so the togetherness that we have as a group hasn’t really changed,” Fisher said in mid-April. “I came in, I had older guys that took me under their wing, showed me the standards, let me know what that looked like. With that standard being set, it’s just about us applying it to what we do every day. The standard doesn’t change.

“If that’s eating together, walking out to practice together, walking to class together, … hanging out outside of football, it’s just about staying together through adversity. We really want to see each other the most, talk to each other, it’s not too hard for us to stay strong in those moments.”

“The hype around Fisher was surprisingly muted this spring. Few Notre Dame practices were open to the media, Fisher never met with the media, and much of the offensive line content bandwidth went toward Harry Hiestand’s return as offensive line coach.

“That hype will come this August. All the reasons Fisher earned the starting left tackle gig as a freshman are still applicable, but now he should be a bit stronger and with better fundamentals thanks to Hiestand.

“‘You can see there’s a very talented player there and someone that’s learning on the job and learning how to be the best player he can be,’ Hiestand said of Fisher this spring. ‘Normally, those conversations are about fundamentals or things we saw in practice we’re trying to emphasize. We’re trying to get our technique to be tremendously consistent.’

“Fisher’s technique was never sloppy, but it can yet become an asset.

“Four members of the starting Irish offensive line are clear in Fisher, Alt, sixth-year right guard Josh Lugg and fifth-year interior lineman Jarrett Patterson. They average 313 pounds and 6-foot-6 ¼. Notre Dame’s offensive line is going to garner notice once it is solidified in August.

“When that happens, Fisher will once again draw attention. Once the season starts, the combination of him and Lugg should give the Irish a vintage power side — anecdotally, that is usually on the left side, so that flip alone will spur a few stories. Fisher has proven himself adept in blitz pickup, but at this point in his career, his best skill is power in run blocking, and that will be featured a bit more on the right side.

“That may sound odd, but it comes down to the wide side of the field vs. the narrow side of the field. With a right-handed starting quarterback, more plays will start on the left hash mark so he can more comfortably buy time rolling to the right, making the right side of the field the wide side. Any offense is more likely to run around tackle on the side of the field with more room to operate.

“Fisher will set an edge there, likely picking up some linebackers as he does so. Frankly, purely from a ‘good football is fun’ perspective, those run plays could become some of the most enjoyable highlights of the Irish season.”

During spring practices, Fisher was asked his goals for the 2023 season. He rattled off a couple generic platitudes about being a good teammate and dominating on the field before he got to the tangible goals the offensive line is focused on: Winning the Joe Moore Award and the national championship.

One of those is far, far more likely than the other.

With Alt and Fisher leading the way, Notre Dame should be a clear contender for the honor given to the best offensive line in the country, and its odds will be bettered with a veteran passer working behind the line.

After a few years of stiff competition from the defensive line room, the Irish offensive line is once again the most talented position group on the roster, and thus it will need to set the tone for Notre Dame to reach its ceiling in 2023. Fisher will be extensively tested by Ohio State and Clemson. If the Irish have any hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff, they will need to win at least one of those games and probably both. Alt and Fisher winning those NFL previews of matchups on the edges may be the deciding factor.

In the last six years, only three teams have sent a pair of offensive linemen into the first round of the NFL draft in the same year, and really, only two have. When Alabama center Landon Dickerson tore his ACL in the 2020 postseason, it knocked him down to No. 37 overall in the 2021 draft, the second Tide lineman selected that year behind tackle Alex Leatherwood at No. 17 overall. For the purposes of this thought exercise, Dickerson was a first-round talent in the 2020 season.

Georgia sent a pair of tackles into the 2020 first round.

And, of course, former Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson went No. 6 and former Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey went No. 9 in 2018.

Those three teams all won at least 10 games, going a combined 35-5. Two of them won the Joe Moore Award. (Georgia did not in 2019, thanks to LSU’s prolific offense, the same reason the Bulldogs did not reach the Playoff.) One of them won the national championship with arguably the greatest offense in NCAA history.

Fisher is not currently projected as a first-round pick in next year’s draft, but his recruiting profile, his immediate collegiate success and his sophomore season all strongly suggest he someday will be a first-round pick. If he plays like one in 2023, then heading to the NFL will need to be considered, even if no Irish offensive lineman has ever gone into the draft after his junior season, even if Fisher could start at left tackle next year after Alt assuredly turns pro following this year.

And if Fisher takes that route, it will be a marker of what should be certain Notre Dame success in 2023, given the precedents set by the Tide, Bulldogs and the 2017 Irish.

For that matter, only one other team has sent as many as two offensive linemen into the first two rounds of the same NFL draft in the last six years: Former Notre Dame tackle Liam Eichenberg went No. 42 and former Notre Dame guard Aaron Banks went No. 48 in 2021. It is no coincidence the 2020 Irish reached the Playoff.

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 93 Armel Mukam, incoming freshman defensive end, former Stanford commit
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 87 Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
No. 79 Tosh Baker, senior tackle, again a backup but next year ...
No. 78 Pat Coogan, junior interior offensive lineman
No. 77 Ty Chan, sophomore offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, first-team All-American left tackle
No. 75 Sullivan Absher, incoming freshman offensive lineman
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, sophomore left guard, likely starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, fifth-year right guard, likely starter
No. 72 Sam Pendelton, early-enrolled freshman offensive lineman
No. 70 Ashton Craig, sophomore interior offensive lineman
No. 68 Michael Carmody, senior offensive lineman
No. 65 Michael Vinson, sixth-year long snapper, four-year starter
No. 64 Joe Otting, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 59 Aamil Wagner, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 56 Charles Jagusah, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 56 Howard Cross, fifth-year defensive tackle, multi-year starter
No. 55 Chris Terek, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 51 Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 17 Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 13 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 12 Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience
No. 4 Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth

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