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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, three-year starter

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Clemson v Notre Dame

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 29: Tommy Kraemer #78 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish walks to the tunnel with teammates before the game against the Clemson Tigers during the College Football Playoff Semifinal Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium on December 29, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-5 ⅜, 319 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A senior, Kraemer has two years of eligibility remaining, including the 2019 season.
Depth chart: For a second year, Kraemer will start at right guard. As was the case in 2018, he will have Trevor Ruhland backing him up, of note because Ruhland took over for Kraemer for two weeks last season due to the latter’s inconsistencies. While Ruhland continues to recover from various injuries, he could provide the same service again if healthy.
Recruiting: The No. 4 tackle in the country, per, and a consensus four-star prospect, Kraemer passed up offers from his homestate Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin to commit to Notre Dame early in the cycle. The Under Armour All-American was named Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year.

After splitting time at right tackle with Robert Hainsey in all 13 games in 2017, Kraemer moved inside to right guard last year, leaving Hainsey to handle full-time tackle duties. That move allowed Alex Bars to move to left guard to replace NFL-bound Quenton Nelson.

When Kraemer rolled his ankle in a late September practice, Ruhland replaced him at Wake Forest, a game better known as quarterback Ian Book’s first start of the year. Kraemer returned a week later, only for Ruhland to slide from left guard (in place of the injured Bars) to right guard after the October idle week. Whatever was plaguing Kraemer, the Irish coaching staff felt he had made enough progress two weeks later to return to the starting lineup.

The 2017 timeshare and 2018’s in-and-out of the lineup combine to give Kraemer action in 25 games, the recorded starter in 22 of them, 12 at right tackle and 10 at right guard.

Perhaps more than any other position at Notre Dame these days, the offensive line holds an ethos of leadership and excellence. The stretch of left tackles becoming top NFL draft picks only underscores the recent stretch of production. In the five drafts from 2014 to 2018, the Irish produced six offensive linemen picks, including four first-rounders. All those first-rounders seemingly immediately became locker room leaders at the next level. In just the last two seasons, four different offensive linemen have served as team captains.

There is an expectation for the next generation of Notre Dame offensive linemen to continue to lead the Irish locker room, an expectation currently falling on the shoulders of three-year starters Kraemer, Hainsey and left tackle Liam Eichenberg.

“Those three guys, in particular, have worked as one, if you will,” head coach Brian Kelly said in early March. “(They) have provided the same kind of leadership that that group has had every single year since I’ve been here and even more so in the last 4-5 years. … They’ve seen that tradition passed on and that tradition doesn’t graduate. That saying that we’ve heard so many times, they’ve picked up. They have the personalities to lead, and we’ve put them in leadership positions.”

At least one of those three will presumably end up as a team captain, though all three will serve in the capacity, officially or unofficially.

Moving Kraemer to guard solidifies his career trajectory. The hole in Kraemer’s game at right tackle was as a pass protector and edge setter. While he will still need to slow the defensive line, the tasks at guard hinge more on power than on length and immediate quickness. Of course, length and quickness help, in which case Kraemer’s time and habits developed at tackle only aid the hopes of the position switch.

“The season will be considered a success at right guard if Kraemer starts every game he is healthy for, rather than getting bypassed by one of the sophomores, and manages to keep most defensive tackles at bay. At some point, he will get beat for a tackle or two for loss. Such is the nature of a 13-game season, particularly one beginning against Michigan and its touted defense.”

Ceding time to Ruhland or maybe more likely junior Josh Lugg would not be a good look for Kraemer. Sure, that is an obvious statement, but more to the point, it would be the third year in a row Kraemer has needed a reserve to shore up his position. In retrospect, Hainsey played himself into that role more than Kraemer left the door open, but the trend exists, nonetheless.

Instead, Kraemer needs to force offensive coordinator Chip Long and line coach Jeff Quinn to commit to him, even through a few mistakes. Offseason weight loss — or, more accurately, better distribution of that weight — should aid Kraemer’s cause. Back in 2017, Long enjoyed few things in life more than pulling Nelson or Bars and letting them pick up speed before clearing a path for running back Josh Adams. When Nelson did so, it was painfully unfair to opposing defenses.

Kraemer did not have the footwork or the agility to serve that blocking role last year, limiting Long’s favorite calls.

“He had to move better,” Long said in early March. “I like to pull our guys, and we were not very good last year, and we’re not going to lose that part of our offense. If he wanted to be a guy, he needed to do it. He can pull and pull with power. You just see a much more confident guy out there, he’s stronger, another offseason in the weight room. The way he’s bouncing around out there, he’s way better than he was.”

When Notre Dame opens the season at Louisville on Labor Day (108 days), it should not expect much of a contest. The Cardinals are far from good, particularly their defense. But one moment that night that could foreshadow a better Irish running game throughout the season would be seeing Kraemer pull early in the game and clear a path for running back Jafar Armstrong.

Expect Kraemer back in 2020. Early mock drafts like to include him, but that is more a reflection of his recruiting pedigree than it is a result of his collegiate play thus far. A dominant 2019 may change things, but Kraemer should be a part of a very veteran offensive line in 2020.

If so bold as to expect health this season, Notre Dame would return 120 offensive line starts in 2020. For context, the starting line can claim 55 starts right now, and the Joe Moore Award-winning line of 2017 entered that season with 75.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90: Hunter Spears, defensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver
No. 85: George Takacs, tight end
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 80: Micah Jones, receiver