Position Group Breakdown: Offensive Line
Observer Sports Staff | Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Sports Illustrated just recently named Notre Dame the new “Offensive Line U.” The offensive line in 2020 figures to live up to this name, as there is plenty of talent and experience across the board. All of the starters from the 2019 season are returning, and if they can stay healthy, this unit could continue to live up to that title.
Position Group: Offensive Line
Depth Charts: incoming freshmen Tosh Baker, Michael Carmody; rising sophomores Zeke Correll, John Olmstead, Andrew Kristofic, Quinn Carroll; rising juniors Jarrett Patterson, John Dirksen, Cole Mabry; rising seniors Aaron Banks, Robert Hainsey, Josh Lugg, Colin Grunhard; graduate students Liam Eichenberg, Tommy Kraemer
Key 2019 Departures:
RG Trevor Ruhland
Ruhland stepped in for Tommy Kraemer at right guard last season after Kraemer got injured against Michigan. Ruhland’s career at Notre Dame was plagued with injuries, but he was able to have a very successful finish last season. Ruhland was told by doctors that he should quit football, but that did not deter him from the pivotal role he played for his team last year. Ruhland was a leader on and off the field, and his leadership in the locker room will be missed.
Key 2020 Contributors:
LT Liam Eichenberg
Eichenberg started all thirteen games for the Irish last year. The main issue with Eichenberg was the multitude of false starts he had throughout the year. Although these mistakes made fans want to pull their hair out at times, Eichenberg proved he is one of the best offensive line players in the NCAA. He did not give up a sack last season. If he can figure out the cadence of Ian Book, he should have an even more successful 2020 season. Eichenberg stands at 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds and has the perfect physique to be an offensive lineman in the NFL if he can prove himself this upcoming season.
LG Aaron Banks
Banks has received plenty of playing time over the last two seasons, and has proven he is one of the better guards in college football. Banks first received playing time in 2018 after the injury of Alex Bars, and he has only improved from that point. Banks has shown he is very strong in the passing game with a 2.1% pressure rate, which is good for seventh in college football among guards. Banks should complement Eichenberg on the left side well to protect Ian Book and allow the Irish to run the ball effectively next season.
C Jarrett Patterson
Patterson’s success in 2019 was a pleasant surprise for the Irish. After redshirting his freshman year, Patterson changed positions from tackle to center and took over from three-year starter Sam Muphister. Both Patterson’s athleticism and pass blocking last year were spectacular, but he still needs to improve on the run game. If Patterson can learn to hit lower and get leverage against his opponents, he can be one of the best centers in college football. Patterson still has three years of eligibility left and will likely be a huge asset under center for the Irish in the coming years.
RG Tommy Kraemer
Kraemer had a very successful 2019 season cut short after he went down with a season-ending sprained MCL against Michigan. Before he got injured last year, Kraemer established himself as a reliable inside blocker for the Irish. If Kraemer can bounce back from his injury and follow the trajectory that he was on in the first half of the 2019 season, Kraemer could end up being a top NFL prospect by the end of the season.
RT Robert Hainsey
The 2019 captain was having a big year for the Irish before he broke his ankle against Virginia Tech. Of the veterans on the Irish offensive line, Hainsey might be the best and most experienced. He has shown that he is effective in both running and passing situations and is a proven leader for the offensive line unit. Hainsey started as a true freshman for the Irish, so 2020 will be his last year in college. Like the rest of his offensive line counterparts, Hainsey figures to be one of the top NFL prospects after his time with the Irish is over.
Lugg will be the “sixth man” for the Irish offensive line in 2020, and he is the proverbial “Swiss army knife” of the offensive line, able to fill in wherever he is needed. Many of the starting offensive linemen have had injury problems in the past, so Lugg will likely see a sizable amount of playing time this season. Lugg will likely be a starter in 2021 as well. His best position is arguably left guard, but he is a very versatile utility man who can step in and perform well regardless of position.
Hayden Adams — Sports Editor
On paper, this should be one of the best offensive lines in the country next season. They have 109 career starts returning between Hainsey, Kraemer, Eichenberg, Banks and Patterson. They also did a tremendous job in pass protection last season as the opposition rarely managed to get to the quarterback. That said, they had a lot of issues. The false start penalties were a huge problem last season, especially against Georgia. Fortunately, the Irish don‘t have a road game with remotely the same type of environment as the Bulldogs.
Another issue last season was that Notre Dame could never establish a solid run game. It‘s unreasonable to expect that they run like they did in 2017 behind the Joe Moore award-winning line that featured Quentin Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, and especially without guys like Dexter Williams or Josh Adams, but even Deon McIntosh was running behind that line. Sure, Tony Jones Jr. and an injured converted wide receiver in Jafar Armstrong didn‘t make for great go-to guys in the backfield, but the line could never give them any push to get the run game going. They‘ll protect the QB, but until they show that they can open holes for guys to run between, I‘m hesitant to think experience alone makes them a real contender for the Joe Moore award once more. B+
Nate Moller — Sports Writer
This might be the best offensive line that Notre Dame has had in recent years, which is saying something, considering some of the NFL talent that has recently come out of Notre Dame. All of the expected starters have experience, and all have shown that they could have a future in the NFL. The false starts were a concern last year, and the run game was hit or miss at times, but I think everything will start to click next year. I will concede that not having spring practice will hurt, but at least all of these guys have played with Ian Book at the helm before.
Injuries could be a concern as Kraemer, Hainsey and Banks have had injury issues in recent years. The good news for the Irish is that they have plenty of depth behind these guys who are ready to step in. Sixth man Josh Lugg would likely be starting at pretty much any other college. Not to mention the fact that the Irish have plenty of four-star recruits in the depth chart that haven’t had a chance to prove themselves yet. I think this offensive line unit might be one of the best in college football in 2020. A