When the 2018 Notre Dame football season kicks off on Sept. 1 against the Michigan Wolverines, the offensive line will take on a new look with Irish stalwarts turned first-round picks Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson collecting NFL paychecks after brilliant careers. Part of that new appearance will take shape on the right side of the line.
That’s where the duo of sophomores Tommy Kraemer and Robert Hainsey will take up residence at guard and tackle, respectively. Last season, the two players formed a largely effective tandem at the right tackle slot, which helped protect Irish signal caller Brandon Wimbush and pave the way for Notre Dame’s strong rushing attack. Kraemer will now essentially be asked to take over the duties of Nelson.
Tommy Kraemer: Making the Move
At 6-foot-6, 315 pounds, Kraemer would seem better suited to simply move over to that left side to replace McGlinchey. However, the Notre Dame coaching staff is confident that this former high school standout possesses the chops to help the right side of the line become the more dominant after years of the team favoring the left.
Even though both Kraemer and Hainsey were playing in their first season for the Irish last year, Kraemer was the one who started in 12 games in 2018. He already has an aggressive nature when it comes to line play which, coupled with his huge size, could afford Notre Dame runners plenty of room to run on the right side of the ball. In fact, in many ways Kraemer is reminiscent of Nelson who some felt could play tackle on the collegiate level as well.
Kraemer’s combination of size and power will, at the very least, make it more difficult for defenders to get to whatever Notre Dame player happens to be carrying the ball. While he’s improved in the area of pass protecting, his new spot will be more focused on his strong skills on running plays.
Robert Hainsey: Taking Full Control
Hainsey is 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds, a stature that offers an imposing presence at tackle. Of course, how well he holds up to his new full starting role remains to be seen. However, like Kraemer, his pre-Irish pedigree gives every indication that he’ll be up to the task, especially after having performed acceptably as a true freshman.
That development was aided by the fact that he was already integrated into the Irish system in last year’s training camp, the byproduct of beginning his studies at South Bend in January 2017. While he made some typical rookie mistakes, the belief is that those inevitable growing pains are in the past and that he’s prepared to take the next step forward.
Hainsey wasn’t expected to be a regular contributor let alone take place in a near 50/50 split at right tackle last year either. He forced his way into the lineup with a strong fall camp. Now it looks like he won’t see his way out of the lineup until he is following in the footsteps of McGlinchey and Nelson in collecting a NFL paycheck.
For most of this year’s spring ball, the idea was that Hainsey would actually be the player to fill McGlinchey’s shoes on the left side. That vision changed when Liam Eichenberg showed enough to get the nod from coaches, which allowed Hainsey to stay in his comfort zone. Depending on how well Eichenberg does when things get real, Hainsey could eventually find himself over there during the campaign.
For now though, Hainsey and Kraemer give Notre Dame a stabilizing force – coupled with the veteran leadership of Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher – to give Notre Dame fans hope the offensive line won’t miss much of a beat despite replacing two of the programs all-time greats.
Broadening Their Game
Part of the reason that Hainsey and Kraemer shared the right tackle position last year was due to the two players’ differing strengths. Hainsey thrived as a pass blocker, while Kramer was more effective in enhancing the potent Irish running game. One sign that Hainsey could handle the position was in the fact that he kept some big-time opposing pass rushers in check.
Of course, should some of the younger tackles start making their presence felt during the course of the year or injuries occur, Hainsey has the flexibility and athleticism to to move to over to left guard. His quickness is prized, but the expectation is that he’ll be anchored on the right side all season long.
A Blueprint for the Future?
With the success that the Hainsey/Kraemer duo had in 2017, Notre Dame very well could test the waters with more duos this year. Playing both last season is allowing Notre Dame to essentially replace two starters on the offensive line with someone who has already played extensively.
The formula worked in 2017 with great success. With Bars and Mustipher headed to the NFL in 2019, doing the same this year with Liam Eichenberg and perhaps Josh Lugg could provide similar flexibility next season.
The Bottom Line
Regardless of where this talented duo ends up, the opponents on this year’s Notre Dame offensive line still has their hands full starting week one with one of the best defenses in the country – Michigan. Given the rarity of losing two offensive lineman who were among the top ten draft selections, it has to be reassuring to the Notre Dame faithful to know that Hainsey and Kraemer are still around.