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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles

Syndication: Journal-Courier

Notre Dame offensive lineman Tosh Baker (79) blocks Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis (5) during ND’s 27-13 win over Purdue, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium. Cfb Notre Dame Vs Purdue

Nikos Frazier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Listed measurements: 6-foot-8, 307 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: A junior, Baker has three seasons of eligibility remaining.Depth Chart: Baker looks to be Notre Dame’s backup left tackle entering the season, behind sophomore Joe Alt, but Baker may still need to compete with classmate Michael Carmody for that role. Carmody appears to be the more versatile reserve, possibly giving him first crack as the replacement at most positions along the offensive line.Recruiting: Baker was every bit the offensive line recruit one expects to be chased by the Irish. The No. 5 offensive tackle in the class, per, as he signed on the dotted line — a ranking that fell to No. 13 by the end of the recruiting cycle — Baker chose Notre Dame over the likes of Alabama, Michigan and Ohio State.

Few things in life go together better than offensive linemen and BBQ joints, even if they are a chain.

The run through Irish left tackles to open 2021 may never be seen again. Freshman Blake Fisher started the opener … and tore his meniscus in the first half. In stepped Carmody, who made it one start before a sprained ankle reared its ugly head. Then it was Baker’s turn, and he enjoyed two starts before a concussion sidelined him. Carmody tried again, before Alt finally provided some stability at the position.

In the end, Baker missed only one week to the concussion, appearing in 11 games total, including the two starts.

That all came after he played twice as a freshman, in two blowouts.

As that injury bug tore through the left tackles in 2021, it also created a natural opportunity to consider all four underclassmen in one swoop. Entering last season, all four still had four seasons of eligibility remaining, and halfway through the season, they had all started at left tackle. A possible logjam could be foreseen, which led to narrative comparisons.

Then-Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly saw a luxury.

“I would say that we regard the four tackles, all the young tackles, as future starters for us in some capacity,” Kelly said last September. “When we’re talking Tosh, when we’re talking about Blake, when we’re talking about Mike, and we’re talking about Joe, we’re very blessed that we’ve got four young players that can play at a high level.”

Fisher was ruled out for the regular season pretty quickly, leaving the other three to compete for the starting gig moving forward. To open October, Kelly pointed out the differences between them.

“Each one of them has characteristics that allow them to compete at Notre Dame at the left tackle position,” he said. “None of them are finished products. You have great length with Baker, you probably have a little bit more athleticism with Carmody, and then maybe a little bit of both with Alt, but he’s young. So each one of them brings a little bit to the table, but none of them are finished products yet.

“Injuries have dictated what’s going on there, but youth is behind that, as well. We could probably have a conversation about upside and who’s going to be where in the future, but we like all three of them. It’s just that it’s still a work in progress.”

“If Fisher proves wrong these doubts based on precedent, that is not a doomsday for Baker’s career at Notre Dame. If any school has proven it will develop offensive linemen, it is Notre Dame, meaning Baker has plenty of reason to be patient waiting for playing time. If he gets a chance to crack the Irish starting lineup, that is as good as a chance at hearing his name in the NFL draft.

“Not to mention, Baker’s primary need all along has been work in a collegiate strength and conditioning program. This summer should provide his first real chance at that. Impatience before letting that work pay dividends would be foolish.”

No offense to Baker, but the Irish would undoubtedly not mind a season of relative health at left and right tackle, keeping him on the sideline. The run of injuries last year was unprecedented in recent times, and played a distinct part in Notre Dame’s early-season offensive struggles. Now with a young quarterback, a stable offensive line will be crucial.

To some extent, though, having Baker as a backup provides some stability. His two starts last season were not stellar, but they were promising enough. He has all the makings of a strong left tackle, should that opportunity arise.

It is more likely he spends the season working behind Alt and learning under returned offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.

Alt and Fisher look entrenched at left and right tackle, respectively. And it is quite possible both declare for the NFL draft after the 2023 season. Rare is the multiple-year starter along Notre Dame’s offensive line that is not already an NFL talent. Fifth-year center Jarrett Patterson absolutely would have been; sixth-year Josh Lugg is actually only a one-year starter to date, 2021.

Of course, things could alter that possibility for Alt and Fisher. Injuries obviously occur. Perhaps their draft evaluations are a touch low and the chance to work more with Hiestand could change those earnings a year later. With name, image and likeness profits off-setting some of that sacrifice, it suddenly becomes a more tenable path.

But it is possible both Alt and Fisher leave the Irish after 2023, opening up two possible spots for Baker to start in his final year of eligibility.

At most positions, that kind of wait would be intolerable, but on the offensive line, Baker has the luxury of knowing he is getting the best development available while at Notre Dame. He can ease his way toward his diploma and make a decision regarding a possible transfer once Alt’s and Fisher’s 2024 plans are more clear. If they will both remain in gold helmets, then Baker can look elsewhere for his starting chance. If one or both of them head to the NFL, he can offer minimal drop-off along the Irish line.

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

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