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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - JANUARY 01: Joe Alt #76 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish prepares to pass block Brock Martin #9 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-7 ⅝, 305 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Alt has three seasons of eligibility remaining.Depth Chart: Alt will be Notre Dame’s starting left tackle this fall, after rising from fourth on that depth chart last season due to injury and then excelling when given that chance.Recruiting: A recent Twitter post claimed 6.3 percent of three-star recruits from 2015 to 2018 ended up being drafted. If anything, that number feels high, but it goes to prove the prudence in chasing four- and five-star prospects, given 21.1 percent of four-stars and 59.4 percent of five-stars became NFL draft picks.

Alt will be one of the 6.3 percent, a hardly-sought three-star tight end in high school.

Few things in life go together better than offensive linemen and pizza, even if it could be better pizza in South Bend. (Looking at you, Barnaby’s.)

Once Blake Fisher tore his meniscus, Michael Carmody sprained his ankle and Tosh Baker suffered a concussion, then Alt got his chance at left tackle last season. He never relinquished it.

Alt played in all 13 games, initially appearing as an eligible tight end in Notre Dame’s biggest packages, swapping out his No. 76 for the No. 45. He then started at left tackle in eight games, beginning with Notre Dame’s trip to Virginia Tech. It is not a coincidence that the Irish began to find an offensive rhythm at that point, as well.

While some of that was a reflection of the lackluster late-season competition, it should also be noted Alt held up against the best pass-rush defense in the country in the Fiesta Bowl, part of a line that allowed only two sacks on 70 dropbacks against Oklahoma State, which led the country in sacks. For all the failings that led to that faceplant, Notre Dame’s pass protection was among them.

When Baker went down against Wisconsin, Carmody got the following start against Cincinnati, his ankle still bothersome. Alt eventually stepped in, somewhat shocking from a former high school tight end who was long seen as a project when he arrived at Notre Dame. The Irish coaching staff was high on him, very high on him, but they expected Alt’s development to take time. Even if they were willing to burn a season of his eligibility with those tight end cameos, that was more a testament to the dual realities of injury likelihoods and continued strong recruiting at the position.

The son of a 13-year NFL tackle warrants belief in his high ceiling, even if his growth spurt did not come until late in his recruitment. When Notre Dame first started chasing Alt, he weighed 240 pounds despite standing 6-foot-6. By the time he signed with the Irish a year or so later, he was at 280 pounds.

Then-head coach Brian Kelly acknowledged that anticipated time delay leading into Alt’s first career start. Those comments are worth remembering, simply because they show how quickly Alt exceeded expectations.

“I wish he’d become it tomorrow,” Kelly said, it meaning a polished left tackle, before adding why he believed Alt would become such in due time. “I think it’s his demeanor, if I had to point to one thing.

“He has size, he has a skill set, he looks like a tackle, he acts like a tackle. He has all those things, but I just love the way he does his job. He’s unflappable when he goes out there. We play him at tight end — change your jersey, put another number on — it doesn’t affect him. He goes in and does his job.

“Is he perfect? Absolutely not. But having said that, there’s a physicality to him that he brings that we really like that we feel we need at that position.”

RELATED READING: How Joe Alt transformed from high school tight end to Notre Dame’s starting left tackle

Similar to repeating Kelly’s October thoughts to emphasize what the expected timeline was for Alt’s development, let’s take ownership of a wildly missed projection from last summer. Nuke LaLoosh was more accurate than this.

“As much as Notre Dame’s offensive line is in flux, its depth cannot be doubted. At tackle alone, the Irish have various reasons to believe in fifth-year Josh Lugg, junior Quinn Carroll, sophomore Tosh Baker and early-enrolled freshman Blake Fisher, not to mention junior Andrew Kristofic waiting in the wings. So there is no need for Alt to fret about 2021.

“A recruiting reach like this one on paper gains credibility when the supposed project is the son of a former All-Pro NFL offensive tackle who enjoyed a 13-year career. John Alt’s success should not be expected from Joe Alt, but some success may be, all the same.

“That will take time spent in the weight room and time spent waiting on Carroll, Baker and Fisher to wrap up their collegiate careers. Given Alt is currently on the same eligibility timeline as all three of them, that time will be in the realm of three or four years.

“At that point, presuming the absolute certainty Alt does not play in more than four games in 2021, he will have two seasons of eligibility remaining. It does not excite anyone to refer to 2024 as any incoming freshman’s first chance at contributing, but when the offensive line is as deep as Notre Dame’s, it is not a concern, either.”

If Alt was able to help solidify the Irish line, along with left guard Andrew Kristofic stepping in for Zeke Correll, with his size after just one summer in a collegiate strength and conditioning program, then all expectations should be fast-forwarded even further. It defies logic to think someone once projected as a possible 2024 contributor could now be a stalwart on the Notre Dame line in 2022, but Alt has made that a potential reality.

That is not meant to jump the proverbial shark or to move the figurative goal posts. It is just the possible continuation of Alt’s rapid ascent.

At the absolute least, he should start throughout the season, barring injury. His length was what made Alt an intriguing prospect as a recruit, along with his lineage. Taking so well to adding weight already should make him durable, as well.

He will give up some sacks, just as he did early in his first start, but that is the inevitability of the position. Under returned offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s eye for fundamentals, Alt should correct those mistakes shortly after he makes them. That could make for a very impressive November.

Multi-year starters on Notre Dame’s offensive line tend to hear their names in the NFL draft. In the rare instances in which they do not, they still end up on NFL rosters for years.

Since this Irish resurgence began in 2017, eight linemen have entered the draft after starting for multiple years. Six of them were drafted: Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson, Aaron Banks, Tommy Kraemer, Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey.

Only Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher were not, the former due at least in part to a torn MCL and ACL. But Hiestand then signed both during his two years with the Chicago Bears, and Bars became a part-time starter, while Mustipher remains on the roster.

Yes, fifth-year center Jarrett Patterson returned to Notre Dame this season after already starting for three seasons, but he would have been a draft pick if he had jumped to the NFL.

Alt will face that decision before long, and as a left tackle, it may be a more clear decision than it was for Patterson. When Alt ponders the 2024 NFL draft, he will presumably do so as a three-year starter for the Irish. That résumé line alone will make Alt a high draft pick. No one should advise against enjoying that opportunity.

Indeed, Alt’s timeline may now be so short that he could be gone from Notre Dame before he was originally expected to contribute.

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

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