Notre Dame lost three starters from its 2015 offensive to the draft and early graduation, but ProFootballFocus still has the Irish offensive line ranked as the best in the country heading into the 2016 season.
Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin are pursuing their NFL careers after being drafted in the first and second round respectively. Steve Elmer meanwhile is pursing a career in politics are graduating early and passing up his final year of eligibility. That leaves Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson as the elder statesmen of an Irish offensive line that returns just 26 career starts as a unit.
That lack of experience, however, didn’t stop PFF from ranking the Irish line as the best in the country. Here’s what they had to say about Harry Hiestand’s squad.
I recently took a trip to South Bend to watch practice and workouts and was amazed by offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s efforts to use the “KISS” formula. Keeping it short and simple is what the Irish o-line looks to do, and they do it well. Using an old-school style of running off the ball blended with a modern style zone blocking allows the Notre Dame line to utilize their talent up front to create seams for their talented ball carriers.
Their favorite play — the “outside zone” — is a prime example. The offensive line looks to reach the defenders and if unable, they use the defense’s momentum against them and continue to run the defender creating those seams for the backs. Notre Dame had +61.6 run block rating and +18.1 pass block rating in 2015 and I have no doubt they will be among the top in both categories this season.
Who Will Start on the Offensive Line for Notre Dame?
The Notre Dame offensive line isn’t even 100% set at this point. The right side of the line and center position aren’t finalized although there are some leaders in the clubhouse at this point. Alex Bars looks like the starting right tackle and Sam Mustipher pulled ahead of the competition at center in spring practice. Right guard is still a question mark though with Hunter Bivin and Tristen Hoge likely headed for a battle in fall camp.
While questions do linger regarding the Notre Dame offensive line, there is reason for optimism even outside these rankings from PFF.
Harry Hiestand Has Built an Offensive Line Pipeline
Harry Hiestand is arguably the best Notre Dame offensive line coach since the days of Joe Moore ever since arriving on campus. Hiestand has not only been responsible for supplying a steady pipeline of elite offensive line recruits for Notre Dame, he’s molded that talent into high NFL Draft picks. Hiestand most recently helped the Irish haul in Class of 2017 Top 100 offensive lineman Robert Hainsey over the weekend.
Offensive line recruiting has been so strong under Hiestand that former 4-star recruit John Montelus was moved to the defensive line in the spring. Some have even wondered aloud if Notre Dame is headed towards becoming the next Offensive Line U. Last year’s class of Tommy Kramer, Parker Boudreaux, and Liam Eichenberg and this year’s growing class of Hainsey, Joshua Lugg, and Dillan Gibbons have done nothing to dispel that notion.
All of the recruiting success has led to on the field results. When Notre Dame lost Tarean Folston for the year in the season opener and Malik Zaire in week two, the offensive line stepped up. Deshone Kizer was rarely under the kind of duress that could have shaken his confidence and CJ Prosise and Josh Adams often had lanes they could have driven Charlie Weis’s golf cart through.
While PFF has Notre Dame’s line ranked #1, the Irish will also face the #3 and 4 lines as well. PFF has Stanford ranked 3rd and USC 4th in their rankings. That could offer problems for a Notre Dame defensive line that has not earned the same level of hype as their counterparts on the other side of the line of scrimmage.