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Roster Updates: Notre Dame loses RT Robert Hainsey for the year, adds a safety transfer for next

Chris Simms and Paul Burmeister assess Ian Book's performance during Notre Dame's comeback win against Virginia Tech and predict the ability of the Fighting Irish to reach a New Year's Six bowl.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A week after Notre Dame lost its right guard for most, if not all, the rest of the regular season, the Irish (6-2) lost junior right tackle Robert Hainsey for the remainder of the year to a broken ankle. Hainsey’s leg was rolled up on Notre Dame’s second drive during its 21-20 victory against Virginia Tech. The play had hardly ended before fifth-year right guard Trevor Ruhland, the week-old fill-in, signaled for trainers to get on the field.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Hainsey will have season-ending surgery Thursday.

A captain, Hainsey was making his 22nd consecutive start, though he practically started his entire freshman season (which would extend that streak to 34) in a timeshare with Tommy Kraemer.

Junior Josh Lugg filled in for Hainsey the rest of Saturday, as he will moving forward. When Kraemer suffered a sprained MCL a week go at Michigan, it was presumed Lugg would be part of the solution there, but instead, Ruhland took over.

“I’ve been in his situation, obviously, and it’s the hardest position to be in, next guy in, because you have to prepare like a starter,” Ruhland said. “One guy gets hurt, I’m in. Next guy gets hurt, he’s in.

“He did a fantastic job, he showed so much grit, he’s such a warrior. I can’t give him enough credit for how he stepped in and played.”

Notre Dame did not give up a sack to the Hokies, notable given the entire new right side of the line and even more notable when realizing how little Lugg and Ruhland practiced together. For much of the year, Lugg has worked as the second unit’s left tackle. He may have been the offensive line’s utility knife so to speak, but the focus was at left tackle. When Ruhland stepped in for Kraemer, Lugg began working more at right guard, as well, simply an acknowledgment of Ruhland’s lengthy injury history. Then suddenly, Lugg was needed at right tackle.

“We thought Lugg and Ruhland played well, especially Josh coming in and seeing his first extended time,” Kelly said Sunday. “We are happy for both those guys that they got in there and were able to impact and compete and gain some confidence.”

Irish senior cornerback Donte Vaughn started against Virginia Tech, his fifth appearance of the season, meaning he will not preserve a year of eligibility to return as a fifth-year in 2020. Notre Dame had pondered that possibility, but it became less feasible when fifth-year cornerback Shaun Crawford could not play against USC (dislocated elbow) and younger cornerback options were not up to the task of the Trojans’ elite receivers, the Wolverines’ quartet of threats or the Hokies’ lengthy players, namely Damon Hazelton.

“We wanted [Vaughn] to play, he wanted to play, we were both on the same page for that,” Kelly said. “We felt like Donte and [senior cornerback Troy Pride] gave us the best chance of winning this year. That’s why both of those guys are on the field.”

Vaughn finished with six tackles and two pass breakups.

The Irish are likely to lose both starting safeties after this season, with Jalen Elliott out of eligibility and Alohi Gilman a draft possibility. As well as freshman Kyle Hamilton has played, including notching his third interception of the year to close Saturday’s victory, Notre Dame’s backline could be a concern next fall.

Those worries should be lessened with the commitment of Ohio State graduate transfer Isaiah Pryor. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, he will bring plenty of size to complement Hamilton’s 6-foot-4 frame. The No. 12 safety in the class of 2017, per, Pryor will have two years of eligibility remaining. In other words, his transfer could put off these drastic safety concerns until 2020, when Pryor is out of eligibility and Hamilton has presumably jumped to the NFL after his junior season.

Sophomore Jack Lamb, the linchpin of the Irish dime defense, will miss at least one week with a non-surgical hip injury, per Kelly. A specialist will provide a better idea of a timeline.

Senior running back Tony Jones should be “full go” this week after staying on the sidelines against Virginia Tech due to a rib cartilage injury suffered at Michigan.

“He probably could have done some things for us,” Kelly said.