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Football

Irish schedule series vs. Alabama, Quinn talks offensive line

| Friday, April 20, 2018

As the Irish spring season comes to an end, one unit that will be giving a few new faces a look in new positions is the offensive line.

With left tackle Mike McGlinchey and left guard Quenton Nelson moving on to the NFL and looking like first-round picks, the Irish have big shoes to fill on left side of the line. In replacing Nelson, the Irish will turn to Alex Bars to start the season. The graduate student played right guard all of last season, but will be switching sides to bring some experience over to that side of the unit.

Chris Collins | The Observer

Irish graduate student offensive lineman Sam Mustipher takes on a defender in Notre Dame’s 38-20 loss to Stanford on Nov. 25 in Palo Alto, California.

To replace McGlinchey, however, the Irish will be turning to a new face altogether: junior Liam Eichenberg. Offensive line coach Jeff Quinn said the first-time starter is “locked in,” as he knows it’s “his time” and has demonstrated great effort in each and every practice, which bodes well given his physical skills.

“I love his length, he’s got great length,” Quinn said of Eichenberg. “He’s got great strength. He sees things quickly, he moves well, he’s able to adjust appropriately to the line games that we see and the movement that defenses present to the offensive line. [I also like] how he reacts to the blitz. He’s been really steady — his confidence continues to improve each and every single day.”

Overall, Quinn said he has a good idea of where his players will fit along the offensive line at this point, and he is confident in the unit as a whole as it prepares for the spring game and beyond.

“I feel good about it,” Quinn said. “Guys like [sophomore] Robert Hainsey — he’s going to be on both sides. [Sophomore Aaron] Banks is going be on both sides. With Alex moving over to left guard, it helps us to help Liam over there to give him a little bit more experience [with] somebody else who’s been through a lot of football games and starting and knows the calls and can continue to communicate appropriately with him. [Graduate student center Sam Mustipher] does a tremendous job and is probably as reliable and dependable as Alex in terms of keeping us all on the same page. You’ve got [junior Tommy Kraemer] and Robert over on that right side who certainly have settled down and can see things equally together, and they can react appropriately.

“So I’ve been pleased with that. … There’s more than just five [players on the offensive line] that can help us and continue to help our football team win.”

Skill-position development

With the Blue-Gold Game set for Saturday to cap off Notre Dame’s spring season, Irish head coach Brian Kelly also spoke to the media Thursday during the ACC’s coaches teleconference, speaking largely about the development of his skill-position players this season.

One position that will be drawing a lot of attention for the Irish up until a starter is named is quarterback, as Irish coaches have consistently praised both senior Brandon Wimbush and junior Ian Book for their growth this offseason. Kelly’s praise was no different Thursday, as he said the competition has progressed naturally because of the way both players have grown in confidence with their technical improvements.

“Oh, I think there’s great competition there,” Kelly said of the quarterback position. “I think Ian Book is 2-0, he’s a guy that’s come in and he started one game and finished another against North Carolina and LSU. So we know he’s very capable. So that competition is there.

“But on the other hand, I think Brandon has made great progress. He needed to certainly solidify and develop his consistency fundamentally, and I think he’s done that. When you see that repeating delivery, a confidence starts to build. So I think a lot of confidence in what he’s been able to do from a mechanics standpoint because it’s helped him mentally. But at the same time, Ian Book’s had a good spring, so there is natural competition with that group.”

Kelly also said he’s been pleased with the development of several of his team’s wide receivers, though senior Miles Boykin has stood out especially, proving himself ready for the role of “centerpiece” in the passing game.

“I’m very pleased with Miles. He’s taken over as our top receiver,” Kelly said. “He’s practiced that way. He’s made plays. I expect him to have an impactful — he’ll be impactful in terms of what he does for us this year.”

Alabama

While the Blue-Gold Game is in the very near future for the Irish, the program also announced the addition of two games in the distant future on Thursday. In 2028 and 2029, Notre Dame and Alabama will open their seasons against one another, playing at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 2, 2028, and at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Sept. 1, 2029.

“This series speaks to Notre Dame’s commitment to play against the best that college football has to offer,” director of athletics Jack Swarbrick said in a press release. “ … College football and our fans benefit when the sport’s best programs play each other. We are thrilled to join Alabama in making sure that continues to happen.”

The home-and-home series will mark the first regular-season meetings between the two programs since 1987. The Irish and Crimson Tide have played on six previous occasions, with Notre Dame leading the series 5-1. The two programs rank in the top five in national championships in the AP Poll era, AP Poll appearances and all-time Division I winning percentage.

“Notre Dame and Alabama. That alone will get people excited, but we’re also opening the season against each other, playing on campus and the Irish will make their first-ever trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium,” Kelly said in the press release. “It’s just a really cool matchup and will be a great experience for everyone involved.”

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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