Brian Kelly more than hinted that changes could be coming to the Notre Dame offensive line the last time he met with the media over a week ago following the win over Purdue. On Tuesday, Kelly confirmed that changes are indeed in store for the offensive line this weekend although the coaching staff is still finalizing what those changes will be.
As of Tuesday, the starting Notre Dame offensive line according to the official depth chart is now, from left to right, Ronnie Stanley (LT), Nick Martin (LG), Matt Hegartty, Steve Elmer (RG), and Christian Lombard (RT). That leaves just one player at the same position that he ended the Purdue game at – Stanley.
Against Purdue, Martin and Hegartty were switched as were Lombard and Elmer. Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, however, have moved Nick Martin from center to guard and vice versa with Hegartty. For Lombard, the move is actually a switch back to where he started his career. Lombard was the starting RT for the 2012 Fighting Irish before moving inside to guard a year ago.
The moves, however, at this point are not final. “We’re trying to move the pieces around on the offensive line so you can see some of the changes there that we’ve moved and we’re still in the process of figuring out what the best five are on the offensive line,” Kelly said on Tuesday. “We’re still in the mix of trying to find the right five guys so knowing it’s probably too early. We need a couple more days before we really solidify that. “
Two of the players still in the mix for a starting role that could reshuffle the deck once again are sophomore Mike McGlinchey and junior Connor Hanratty. “We’re still working, Hanratty, and he’s still in the mix, and McGlinchey is definitely in the mix, ” said Kelly. “Both those guys are working in the first group and we’re still rotating those guys in.”
Last week’s bye week afforded Kelly and Hiestand the opportunity to try some different offensive line alignments after the offensive line struggled mightily at times during the last two games. Even without a bye week though, the play of the line would have warranted changes. “I think it was going to happen regardless,” Kelly answered when asked if he would have made these changes without having a bye week.
The realignment reflected in the depth chart has been rumored for days so Tuesday’s news is no surprise. Despite technically having players in four different roles than what they played against Purdue, these roles will hardly be new for the linemen. Elmer played extensively at guard last year as a freshman and played well. Matt Hegartty filled in at center last season as well when Nick Martin was hurt at the end of the season. Then there’s Elmer who started 13 games at right tackle during the ’12 season. That’s a lot of experience. The problem, however, could be continuity since these players haven’t played in this alignment to date.
Notre Dame will need to find its answers along the line in a hurry. This weekend’s contest with Syracuse should give Notre Dame a live audition for the new look offensive line, but they won’t be so lucky next weekend when Stanford comes to town for the first of a three game stretch that sees the Irish played three consecutive pre-season ranked opponents.
We likely won’t know for sure who will be the starting five linemen for Notre Dame until their first possession on Saturday night, but it looks pretty safe to assume that we’ll be seeing a starting lineup that we haven’t seen so far this year. Whether or not the results are different won’t be known until Saturday night.