With a new man behind center for Notre Dame in Sam Hartman, making sure he stays upright on a regular basis will again serve as a challenge for the Irish line. One of the most important links in that unit is expected to be right tackle Blake Fisher, who’s set to begin his third season of collegiate action.
Fisher has the requisite leadership skills and offered occasional glimpses last year of the impact he could potentially make in 2023. By delivering a breakout campaign in the season ahead, Fisher has the opportunity to help the Notre Dame cause. On a more personal level, he can put himself in a position to be another high draft pick from the Irish pipeline of offensive linemen.
As impressive as Fisher has been for Notre Dame, the production of his counterpart on the other side of the line has somewhat obscured his results. Joe Alt will also be one of those high draft picks in the near future, and if Fisher does manage to up his game, the Irish could have the best tackle tandem in college football.
A Quick Start Followed by Inconsistency
Fisher’s decision to become part of the Irish’s 2021 recruiting class broke the hearts of schools like Ohio State and Alabama. That’s because Notre Dame added a player who now stands 6-feet-6 and weighs 310 pounds, yet moves quickly enough and has the strength to usually stop incoming pass rushers.
The talent of Fisher was on immediate display when he managed to earn a starting spot during the 2021 preseason camp. Unfortunately, that accomplishment was quickly negated when he suffered a knee injury in the opening game at Florida State. An early projection of an eight-week recovery period proved to be too optimistic, though he did return for the Cotton Bowl matchup against Oklahoma State.
Last season’s start was bad all around for Notre Dame, with Fisher and the offensive line struggling to gel into a formidable unit. In Fisher’s case, the team’s 3-3 mark following the Stanford debacle was indicative of the struggles he was enduring. During that miserable span, he gave up three of the five sacks he allowed all year and also had problems with defensive pressure in general. From then on, Fisher’s line efforts saw an uptick, with the Irish winning six of their last seven contests.
Areas of Concern
By nature, the role of an offensive lineman is to be anonymous and avoid such things as sacks and penalties. Fisher has offered a hint of what he can do on the field but needs to do it this season on a more consistent basis. Of course, given his injury-plagued beginning, he really only has one year of collegiate action under his belt.
One interesting thing to watch with regard to Fisher and the other linemen will be just how well they connect with new offensive line coach Joe Rudolph. During his days tutoring the offensive linemen at Wisconsin, Rudolph helped maintain the success which that unit has had, especially when it came to the running game.
Right now, Fisher has shown more when it comes to run blocking than in passing situations. Yet, he does need to become more aggressive when it comes to finishing off blocks. The pass-blocking flaws are partly related to his struggles to stay balanced, though he has been adept when it comes to simple straightforward rush.
The arrival of Rudolph could also be a boon to Fisher because of the new coach’s emphasis on playing at a lower pad level. That was an issue for Fisher last season, as was occasionally being late off the snap. In the latter case, that caused leverage issues that could be a thing of the past if Rudolph’s messaging gets through.
Taking a Different Approach
Another reason for optimism about Fisher’s 2023 potential is that he made an off-season effort to drop some weight. That could end up paying dividends during the course of the campaign by improving his quickness and stamina. In one way, it shows that he appears to be dedicated to fulfilling past projections this year.
Such projections are only natural, considering that Fisher was the first Irish freshman offensive lineman to start in his collegiate debut. Sam Young had previously achieved that rare distinction in 2006 and went on to an 11-year NFL career after being a sixth-round draft pick in 2010.