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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 72 Caleb Johnson, sophomore offensive tackle, former Auburn pledge

Caleb Johnson

Listed measurements: 6-foot-5 ⅝, 287 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Johnson has all four seasons of eligibility remaining.Depth Chart: The left-tackle crisis of 2021 never forced Johnson into playing time, underscoring how far down the depth chart he was and is. There are four established options for the two tackle positions — sophomores Joe Alt and Blake Fisher as the starters with juniors Tosh Baker and Michael Carmody as their backups — leaving Johnson outside the two-deep.Recruiting: Johnson was a long-time Auburn commit, before the chaos surrounding the firing of Gus Malzahn spurred his de-commitment. The Tigers boosters did themselves no favors in that — or, unrelated, this — recruiting cycle. The No. 31 offensive tackle in the class, per, and consensus four-star prospect also held offers from Alabama and Florida, both earning visits during his courting.

Johnson did not play in 2021.

Fashion icon.

“When (Josh) Lugg says, ‘What the standard is is the standard,’ he also endorses the Irish habit of slowly grooming offensive linemen. The possibilities of Fisher and Spindler aside, the expectation remains that an offensive lineman will work on his strength and conditioning, better his form and so forth for at least a season, more likely two. That allows him to get better and acknowledges the depth of Notre Dame’s offensive line.

“While more attention should be paid to Johnson than widely has been, a byproduct of Fisher and Spindler getting so much due, his time in 2021 will be spent in that prototypical fashion, far from any public focus. In particular, some fine tuning of Johnson’s footwork could go a long way in his development. …

“When Lugg heads to the next level, be it after 2021 or, thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver, after 2022, a starting job will open at right tackle. Johnson will compete for that gig with the likes of junior Quinn Carroll and the runner-up in the current left tackle competition between Fisher and sophomore Tosh Baker.

“Johnson may seem the least likely candidate of those three or four, but an Auburn pledge deserves notice. The Tigers are a mercurial national power, but a national power all the same, one that has produced quality offensive linemen for years now. Johnson was not forced away from Auburn; this was not a de-commitment in optics only. He opted elsewhere because of the debacle that was the end of the Malzahn tenure (a situation that got only worse).

“Johnson will contribute to the Irish offensive line at some point. Even if he does not win that honor in 2022, his eligibility clock will be a season behind Fisher’s, and Fisher may spend only three years in college if his spring performance is any indication of what is to come.”

Johnson’s concerns this season reach further than the early starring from Alt and Fisher. If they were the only hurdles between him and playing time, the chances of a sprained ankle would make being a No. 2 tackle a noted role. But with Baker and Carmody also well ahead of him, Johnson’s hopes of playing time dwindle, not to mention the tackle experience of sixth-year guard Josh Lugg and senior guard Andrew Kristofic, along with the all-around versatility entrusted in fifth-year center Jarrett Patterson.

Notre Dame would have to endure a rash of injuries that would warrant national headlines in order for Johnson to enter the starting lineup this season.

None of that is his fault. This is the risk run by joining a program as good at recruiting and developing offensive line talent as the Irish are.

A 2021 early enrollee, Johnson is readying for his third semester of college. He will likely be a semester from graduating, but with two seasons of eligibility remaining, when either Alt and/or Fisher declare for the NFL draft following the 2023 season. By then, Baker and Carmody will be entering their final years of eligibility as fifth-year linemen.

That paragraph includes a lot of uncertainty, and it fails to mention incoming freshmen Aamil Wagner and Ty Chan, but the emphasis should be on Johnson’s coming options.

When December of 2023 arrives, he should have an idea of his possible playing time in 2024. If not then, then by May 1, 2024. That will give him a chance to find playing time elsewhere if necessary, with a Notre Dame degree in hand.

A transfer should not be assumed. Johnson has the makings of a quality tackle. Falling behind Alt and Fisher should, in retrospect, have been assumed all along. Spending three seasons developing could have Johnson perfectly positioned to succeed one of them in 2024.

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

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