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The Journal Gazette

  • Dylan Sinn | The Journal Gazette Notre Dame offensive linemen Trevor Ruhland (57) and Jarrett Patterson (55) look on as fellow linemen including Zeke Correll (52) run a drill at fall camp practice.

Monday, August 26, 2019 1:00 am

Irish feel confident in O-line potential

4 returning starters been through 'grind'

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame wants to be a physical football team in 2019. Despite starting quarterback Ian Book being a dark-horse preseason Heisman Trophy contender, coach Brian Kelly believes the Irish will rise or fall on whether they can run the ball and impose their will up front.

On the latter point, Notre Dame is in good shape. The Irish return four starters from the group of offensive linemen that ended last season as first-stringers, a unit that helped Notre Dame run for 182.5 yards per game.

“They've been through the grind,” offensive line coach Jeff Quinn said of the four returning starters. “They've been through the weekly preparation, the game planning, the practices, and then going out on that field and competing against some of the best competition in the country.

“You feel good that those guys understand what it takes each and every day to compete at the highest level. You lean very heavily on that experience.”

The returning starters are left tackle Liam Eichenberg, left guard Aaron Banks, right guard Tommy Kraemer and right tackle Robert Hainsey, who was voted a team captain.

Only redshirt freshman Jarrett Patterson, replacing three-year starter Sam Mustipher at center, is new to the line.

“It's a good offensive line and a good group,” Kelly said. “All five of them work well together. Those five guys plus Trevor (Ruhland) and Josh Lugg, who is a Swiss Army knife for us, give us some versatility. That group of five is a really good unit who plays well together.”

Eichenberg is the linchpin of the line, a massive 6-foot-6, 305-pound NFL prospect who will be central to Notre Dame's performance up front.

He was up and down in 2018, in the wake of replacing a first-round NFL draft pick, Mike McGlinchey. Eichenberg struggled to build chemistry with the guard next to him after Alex Bars went down with a knee injury and Ruhland and Banks battled for the spot.

With Banks entrenched at left guard, Eichenberg is focused on being more consistent, finishing his blocks and, as he said, putting defenders “in the ground.”

“(Eichenberg) has been really solid,” Kelly said. “He's been tested. What I liked about Liam more than anything else in this camp is he's been steady and he's been consistent. I thought at times in the spring, there were some ups and downs that were noticeable. Very rarely has it been noticeable those days that haven't been his best.

“I know that doesn't sound like a glowing report, but when your best day isn't noticeable, that's a really good thing for a left tackle.”

Patterson is the only real question mark. He has no starting experience and appeared in only three games in 2018. Now he'll be asked to replace Mustipher, a captain and emotional leader on the line, despite never playing center. Quinn said he isn't worried about the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Patterson's lack of experience.

“It's one of the things I said to these guys is that if your best five players are all tackles, then two are going to play guard and one is going to have to learn how to play center,” Quinn said. “And I said, 'Jarrett, (the center is) you.' He embraced it. The one thing about Jarrett is he's got such a positive attitude about the game, himself and wanting to contribute.”

If Patterson holds his own and Eichenberg takes his game up a notch, this Irish line has a chance to match some of the dominant fronts Notre Dame has fielded in the past. The Irish want this line to set the tone.

dsinn@jg.net