Notre Dame already had to replace two stalwarts on the offensive line heading into the 2016 season. The decision by Steve Elmer to end his career early and pursue his political career a year early on Tuesday pushed that number to three leaving the Irish with just two returning starters next season.
Before jumping into just how Notre Dame replaces Elmer – on top of replacing Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin – let’s give a quick tip of the hat to Elmer for making what could not have been an easy decision and another for even having that type of decision to make. In a world of terrible graduation rates and stories of players finishing their careers at other schools with barely the ability to read, here we have Steve Elmer who will graduate a year early and has decided to pursue his career dreams.
Ok, now onto the football part.
Notre Dame already had to replace its starting left tackle and center this season so now we’re adding a right guard into the mix as well. Elmer had his ups and downs at times in 2015 but he does leave Notre Dame essentially as a three year starter – that kind of experience can’t just be replaced. Now, you can argue that his on the field performance does leave room for improvement in 2016 regardless of who replaces him in the starting lineup though.
Before Notre Dame replaces Elmer, there’s a couple other questions to ask.
- Who will start at left tackle?
- Where will Alex Bars fit in?
- Who will win the battle for the center position?
Figuring out the Tackle Positions
First thing Notre Dame will need to do is figure out what they are doing at tackle. Do they shift Mike McGlinchey over to left tackle to follow in Stanley’s footsteps? Or do they leave the mauling Philadelphia native on the right side where he excelled this season? Many assume that he will just slide over, but personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him stay at right guard and for rising junior Alex Bars to assume the left tackle spot.
Remember, Bars has been praised by Kelly a lot over the last two years and not just in the way that Kelly likes to praise underclassmen to light a fire under upper classmen. Bars is the same kid that Kelly once said, “He’s one of the best I’ve seen in 25 years. He’s that good. Those guys ought to be nervous about whose job he’s going to take. He’s that good of a player.”
Bars has the rare athleticism to play the left tackle position, but is also coming off a season ending ankle fracture he suffered back in October. How that ankle recovers could determine whether or not he can step in at tackle.
Assuming Bars and McGlinchey lock down both tackle positions, that leaves center and right guard left to fill. Again, before getting to Elmer’s replacement, let’s look at center. Sam Mustipher and Tristen Hoge will fight it out for the starting center position this spring and fall in a battle that will likely last into fall camp. The loser of that battle could very likely be in the mix at right guard, but there will be a host of other competitors there.
Competition will be Fierce on the Interior of the Line
Colin McGovern, Hunter Bivin, and John Montelus all figure to be in the mix for a starting position. McGovern and Bivin could both challenge at tackle as well which could move Bars inside while Montelus will be strictly focused on the guard position. That sole focus could actually end up giving him a bit of an edge since others will likely be cross training at tackle and guard as Notre Dame looks to field the best five linemen this fall.
As you can see, there are a lot of questions remaining in how Notre Dame replaces Steve Elmer, but there are a few things we know for sure
- Mike McGlinchey is ready to follow in Ronnie Stanley and Zack Martin’s All-American footsteps regardless of what side of the line he’s on.
- Quenton Nelson could be the anchor of the line and could be ready to ascend to an All-American level too. He is an absolute beast. He could also get a look at tackle, but he’s played so well inside it would be tough to move him.
- Alex Bars will be a starter in 2016 – it’s a lock. It’s just a matter of where.
- Notre Dame has built so much depth on the offensive line – thanks in large part to the recruiting of Harry Hiestand – that the Irish have multiple options to step in to replace Steve Elmer, Stanley, and Nick Martin.
The offensive line is going to feature some fierce battles throughout spring and fall practice and the dust likely won’t settle until late August. When it does, expect Notre Dame to once again have a stout offensive line even with having to now replace three starters in 2016.