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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 71 Alex Bars, offensive lineman

Army v Notre Dame

SAN ANTONIO, TX - NOVEMBER 12: Durham Smythe #80 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates a touchdown reception against Army during the first half of an NCAA college football game at the Alamodome on November 12, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-6, 320 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Senior with two years of eligibility remaining including 2017
Depth chart: If someone were to clone Bars, he would start at both right-side offensive line positions. Without that controversial leap forward in technology, he is set to start at right guard with fifth-year senior Hunter Bivin backing him up, though Bivin provides that support across much of the line.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit, Bars committed to Notre Dame early, turning down offers from Michigan, Ohio State, Stanford and many other perennial college football powers. An Under Armour All-American, named Bars the No. 4 player in Tennessee, the No. 10 offensive tackle in the country and the No. 98 overall prospect.

Bars preserved a year of eligibility in 2014 before beginning 2015 as the primary backup to four of the five offensive line positions (not at center). He saw action in four games in that role before stepping in for an injured [now-senior] Quenton Nelson as the starting left guard. Two games later, Bars broke his ankle, ending his season in October.

Last year, Bars started all 12 games at right tackle. This spring, he moved inside to right guard to make space for either of the sophomore duo of Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg.

Irish coach Brian Kelly did allow during spring practice it is within the realm of possibility Bars takes over at right tackle.

“We would prefer to get him in at the guard position,” Kelly said in March. “But we know he can play the [right tackle] position.”

That same week, Kelly described the right guard spot as “firmly established” thanks to Bars.

“Alex Bars is going to be the right guard,” Kelly said. “I don’t see that there’s going to be any real change there. He was a starter for us last year.”

In April, Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand praised Bars’ progress at his new position, while also acknowledging his known skill for the right tackle spot.

“Alex could be good at both,” Hiestand said. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to say [right guard is] his best position, but he’s really learning guard and doing well right now. That’s what’s best for us.”

I assume a healthy, strong season from Bars. I think the time working inside could help him in the running game, while his athleticism should make pass blocking feel natural, especially with great length and feet.

“Of course, he’s still a first-year starter. Expecting a year like Quenton Nelson or [now fifth-year senior left tackle] Mike McGlinchey had might be too much, but there’s no reason not to set a similar bar. From the moment Bars stepped foot on campus, Kelly knew he had a special player.

“Hunter Bivin can play tackle in a pinch. Freshman Tommy Kraemer might be able to as well. But for the Irish to have their best offensive line, they need Bars to anchor the right side. I expect him to do so in 2016.”

The last sentence of Hiestand’s above quote sums up the dichotomy of Bars’ coming season. Tackle might be his better position personally, but Bars playing at right guard is “what’s best for us.” One way or another, Bars and either Kraemer or Eichenberg will make up the right side of the line. Bars is more established at both right guard and right tackle than either sophomore, but the gap between him and the better of the two at tackle is less than it is at guard, so the greater sum includes Bars at guard.

At least, that is the theory. Whether it is utilized in practice will depend on how Kraemer and/or Eichenberg performs in fall camp. The best-case scenario sees that theory realized, in no small part because it would allow Bars to excel a bit more in run blocking, the area of the game where he is at his best.

If he has to move outside to tackle, that figures to be a slight step backward for the Irish line as a whole. Hiestand has always shown a distinct preference for finding the best five-man unit, not for placing linemen where they perform best individually.

On some level, one wonders if the insistence on moving Bars to guard is also an attempt to find tackle depth for 2018, when McGlinchey is enjoying the perks of being an early-round NFL Draft pick. Bars has proven he can play tackle. Hiestand probably hopes for someone else to also prove that in the near future, so he has enough experienced options to fill the line in 2018 if no new arrivals step forward.

Even if that stray thought does have some validity, Bars has shown before he can excel at guard. Frankly, his physical gifts set him up well for any of the four tackle or guard positions. That versatility combined with his size bodes well for NFL conversations following the 2018 season.

2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 73: (theoretically): Josh Lugg, offensive tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle

No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career end by medical hardship