After losing four starters along the offensive line from a season ago, Brian Kelly will look to reload in the trenches. Early enrollees Blake Fisher and Rocco Spindler have been impressive during Spring football and may become rare freshmen starters at left tackle and left guard. Their future is bright in South Bend, but the learning curve will have to be accelerated if Notre Dame wants to make it back into the College Football Playoffs.
Top Ranked Recruits in 2021 Class
Both players were ranked in the Top 60 for the 2021 recruiting class. Blake Fisher and Rocco Spindler were the highest-rated recruits in this year’s recruiting class. According to 247 Sports, Fisher was the #54 player overall and #8 offensive tackle in the country, while Spindler was the #59 overall and #3 guard in the nation.
From the practice film to their overall size, these players have enormous potential. Blake Fisher is currently listed at 6’ 6” and 330 pounds, while Rocco Spindler is listed at 6’ 5” and 315 pounds. Both could still be seniors in high school, but they chose to get started early on their college football careers, and this will hopefully allow them to start this fall.
Irish continue to dominate recruiting along the offensive line. Notre Dame’s Offensive line has been the heart and soul of the offense since Kelly took over in South Bend. Players such as Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley, Quenton Nelson, and Aaron Banks, just to name a few, have turned Notre Dame into an offensive line factory.
A potent rushing attack and physical offensive line play helped the Irish get back to the playoffs in 2020. Even though they came up short against Alabama in the Rose Bowl, the Irish Offensive Line has always been one of the best in the entire country. If Jarrett Patterson did not get hurt, they would have likely won the Joe Moore Award.
Early enrollment is huge for the development of Fisher and Spindler. The two-freshman arrived in South Bend this winter and already have several months of conditioning under legendary strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis. Let us not forget that Balis is one of the best strength coaches in the country. Alabama even plucked former Notre Dame strength assistant David Ballou, who was alongside Balis before taking over Indiana Football, from his position with the Hoosiers a few years back.
Both Fisher and Spindler were able to go through a spring football season of learning the playbook, snap counts, and everything that comes with division one football. Without early enrollment, it would have been difficult to see these two starting right away.
Head Coach Brian Kelly has been utilizing the “best player.” The narrative of Brian Kelly not playing underclassmen has changed. For example, Fisher and Spindler are projected by some as starters along the offensive line. This position usually requires more experience via strength and conditioning, as well as overall knowledge of the offense. Even last season, Coach Kelly played freshmen Michael Mayer, Clarence Lewis, and Chris Tyree because they earned the right.
Yes, I still believe there are instances where some skill position players are highly successful later in their careers and did not get many opportunities early on to help (especially in blowout games). Still, over the last several seasons, Notre Dame has done a great job of developing players earlier in their careers.
Offensive Line Development
Notre Dame looks to replace four veteran offensive linemen. The line a year ago had a lot of experience playing together and was a talented group. Aaron Banks went to the San Francisco 49ers (2nd round), Eichenberg went to the Dolphins (2nd round), Hainsey was drafted by the Buccaneers (3rd round), and Kraemer signed with the Detroit Lions. It is never easy losing that much production. Still, Notre Dame was able to reload after the Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey era back in 2017, and with their recruiting, there is no reason they cannot build another tremendous offensive line.
I have no doubt that Blake Fisher and Rocco Spindler will be two of the best offensive linemen in the country in the next few seasons, but how good can they be this fall? We will find out in a little over 100 days. Jeff Quinn has done a great job since taking over for Harry Heistand a few years ago, and his development of Fisher and Spindler will be vital for Notre Dame Football in 2021.
Florida State presents a major road test in week one. The Fighting Irish will be the better team in Tallahassee come Labor Day Weekend, but my biggest concern is the environment. It is uncertain how many fans will be in attendance, but after several bad seasons and year two under Mike Norvell, you can bet the Florida State faithful will be loud and enthusiastic to beat the Fighting Irish.
The Notre Dame Offense has typically taken a few games to find its stride. Last season, the Irish only beat Duke by 14-points and Louisville by 5-points. In 2018, Brian Kelly even replaced starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush with Ian Book to spark the offense. A night game at Doak Campbell Stadium will present many challenges for a Notre Dame Offense filled with many new faces.
Potential first-round picks in the NFL Draft? Kurt Hinish said, “They’re the best two freshmen offensive linemen I’ve ever seen or went against (Fisher and Spindler). They’re supposed to be seniors in high school, and they’re grown men playing with us.” Both linemen have yet to play a snap in a game yet, but that is high praise from a fifth-year senior who has competed against a multitude of linemen during his time in South Bend.
Notre Dame Football had nine players drafted this season, but no players were selected in the first round. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah likely would have been if it were not for a heart issue that came up late in the process. Fisher and Spindler have the potential to be first-round picks down the road.
The future of the left side of the offensive line is solidified. Blake Fisher and Rocco Spindler are only going to get better with each snap. I cannot wait to see their improvement from game one to game twelve. Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree are two of the better running backs in the country and should be excited to run behind two stud offensive linemen the next few years.