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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 54 Blake Fisher, sophomore starting right tackle, ‘ginormous’

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - JANUARY 01: Blake Fisher #54 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish blocks Kody Walterscheid #96 of the Oklahoma State University Cowboys during the Play Station Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on January 01, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

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Listed measurements: 6-foot-6, 335 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Fisher has four seasons of eligibility remaining. Not all that long ago, his appearance in the Fiesta Bowl would have cost Fisher a year of eligibility, but the uniform four-game eligibility exception removed that gray area from injury concerns to everyone’s benefit.Depth Chart: Fisher will start for Notre Dame at right tackle, a year after beginning the season at left tackle before an injury — and then two more injuries to others — gave classmate Joe Alt a chance to star.Recruiting: An All-American and five-star, Fisher ranked as the No. 1 prospect in Indiana, the No. 6 offensive tackle in the class and No. 25 overall prospect in the country. Thus, expectedly, he held a scholarship offer from every pertinent program.

Fisher was the second freshman to ever start on Notre Dame’s offensive line in the season opener when he took the field at left tackle at Florida State last year, then a slight meniscus tear ended that role in less than a half. Initially, then-Irish head coach Brian Kelly suggested Fisher could return at some point midseason, but Kelly was notoriously optimistic when discussing injury timelines with the media.

Instead, Fisher improved enough to practice in the lead-up to the Fiesta Bowl, and when starting right tackle Josh Lugg needed surgery, Fisher was quickly deemed his replacement in the bowl game. He held up for 70 dropbacks, facing the best pass rush in the country. With freshmen book ends on the offensive line, Notre Dame gave up just two sacks on those 70 pass plays.

Remember when Georgia running back Todd Gurley was suspended in-season for selling his autograph in 2014? A key moment in the narrative shift around college players profiting off their own name, Gurley deserved none of that scrutiny, a nuisance current players are fortunately spared.

Sometimes a November quote does not get used in weekly game coverage because it is not entirely pertinent in that particular moment. When linebacker Drew White commented on Fisher and Alt as the Irish readied to face Virginia last November, the focus was on the Cavaliers’ potent offense and the questionable availability of their star quarterback Brennan Armstrong, so White’s thoughts on the pair of young offensive tackles were never relayed to the masses.

“They’re pretty mature for how young they are,” White said. “They’re also ginormous, so that helps, as well. Those are some really tall and big dudes.”

The lack of a red squiggly line under ginormous is how we learned that is actually a word and not merely an amalgamation of giant and enormous.

“Despite all the springtime praise, it should not be presumed Fisher starts in Tallahassee. If he does so, he will be the first Notre Dame freshman starter on the offensive line in the season opener since Sam Young in 2006. And Baker is a quality player himself.

“But all that springtime praise makes it seem likely Fisher will start, quite possibly alongside (Rocco) Spindler. At that point, all bets are off.

“Many will see a pair of 18-year-olds starting on the offensive line and punt on the Irish season. That would be rash. Both Fisher and Spindler played at a collegiate level this spring, somehow.

“There will undoubtedly be hiccups, just as there would be with Baker getting his first true action, but if Fisher can find some footing in September and maintain through the grueling stretch that awaits the Irish in October, he could put together a November impressive enough to garner even more hype entering 2022. …

“It feels distinctly rash to look at a player that has not seen a single collegiate snap and ponder him jumping to the NFL after his junior season, but given that the Irish have produced only first- and second-round draft picks from left tackle during the entire Brian Kelly era, the thought of Fisher starting as a true freshman plays right into him heading to the draft after the 2023 season. (To again acknowledge one’s own error, suggesting 2023 would be when Fisher might first start was conservative to a fault.)

“To risk pulling this into a bigger and broader conversation than any “99-to-0″ entry warrants, at some point the years remaining in Kelly’s tenure need to be considered. This past spring, Aaron Banks became the first offensive lineman in Kelly’s 11 years to spurn one more season for the NFL draft when a first-round possibility was not assured. Banks going in the second round proved the logic to his decision, but the intended point is that Kelly and his staff have made a habit of talking elite offensive linemen back into one final season. Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey top the list of those who benefited from such persuasion, but the list covers Kelly’s 11 years.

Come 2023, though, Kelly will have been at Notre Dame for 14 seasons. If he is retiring then — not a prediction, just an acknowledgment that with every season passed, the odds of Kelly stepping away increase — that sales pitch may not land with the same effectiveness. Fisher could head to the NFL after only three seasons, not that anyone could blame him.”

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.

The earliest 2024 mock drafts will begin populating in October or November. Is that too soon? Absolutely. Do those articles still get published because they are very widely read? Indeed.

Will they include Fisher and Alt? Most likely.

From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 89 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury
No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles
No. 78 Pat Coogan, sophomore center, recovering from a meniscus injury
No. 77* Ty Chan, incoming offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle
No. 75 Josh Lugg, sixth-year offensive lineman, likely starting right guard
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard coming off foot surgery
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, senior offensive tackle-turned-guard
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, sophomore offensive tackle, former Auburn pledge
No. 68 Michael Carmody, junior offensive line utility man
No. 65 Michael Vinson, long snapper, ‘Milk’
No. 65* Chris Smith, defensive tackle, Harvard transfer
No. 59* Aamil Wagner, consensus four-star incoming freshman offensive tackle
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, fifth-year defensive tackle, coming off shoulder surgery
No. 57* Ashton Craig, incoming freshman center
No. 56 Joey Tanona, early-enrolled offensive guard coming off a concussion
No. 56 Howard Cross, senior defensive tackle with heavy hands, and that’s a good thing
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, fifth-year offensive lineman, three-year starting center, captain
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter

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