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Notre Dame Career Starts By Unit

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Liam Eichenberg (74), Robert Haines (72) and Tommy Kraemer (72) all return as starters along the 2019 offensive line — and could in 2020 as well.
Liam Eichenberg (74), Robert Haines (72) and Tommy Kraemer (72) all return as starters along the 2019 offensive line — and could in 2020 as well. (BGI/Angela Driskell)

On every football team, the offensive and defensive lines should be among the more veteran units. That’s because those two position groups generally have the largest volume of players.

However, there is a stat we do like to point out often: The last time Notre Dame won a national title (1988), it had four career starts returning along the offensive line and zero along the defensive line, the lowest combination ever at the school since at least going to the two-platoon system for good in 1964.

Thus, experience is not necessarily everything, but it should be an asset on a team that advanced to the four-team College Football Playoff as Notre Dame did in 2018. Just like last season, when the offensive and defensive lines were the most experienced units on the Fighting Irish team, they are among two of the top three this year as well.

Here are the most career starts entering 2019, by position.

1. Offensive Line: 59 —Tommy Kraemer (19), Robert Hainsey (16), Liam Eichenberg (13), Aaron Banks (6), Trevor Ruhland (5)

This is a little below last year’s 65 (52 of them by fifth-year seniors Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher).

What is amazing is that everyone other than center/guard Ruhland still has at least one year of eligibility remaining in 2020, — with 2019 projected sophomore starting center Jarrett Patterson entering this season with four years. That means if this unit has reasonable health in 2019 and everyone opts to return, it could be at nearly 120 career starts next year, a likely school record.

2. Safety: 39 —Jalen Elliott (26), Alohi Gilman (13)

Elliott is the lone Notre Dame player to start every contest during Notre Dame’s 22-4 run the past two seasons. A case can be made that this number should be 51 because Gilman started 12 games for the Naval Academy in 2016 before transferring. For this survey, we’re using only Fighting Irish numbers, though.

3. Defensive Line: 38 — Khalid Kareem (13), Daelin Hayes (13), Julian Okwara (12)

There is an immense disparity here because all the starts are from the senior ends, while there are none at the two interior tackle spots. First-round draft pick Jerry Tillery (41 starts) and nose tackle Jonathan Bonner (27) have departed with their combined 68 starts.

Had Kareem and Okwara opted to turn pro it would have been quite a setback. Instead, Notre Dame’s defensive end position should rank among the nation’s finest.

4t. Wide Receivers: 28 — Chase Claypool (20), Chris Finke (8)

Classified as a bona fide 2020 first-round prospect by head coach Brian Kelly, Claypool has the most returning starts among anyone on offense, while fifth-year senior Finke has worked his way from walk-on freshman to potential captain timber.

The duo combined for 99 receptions last year while Miles Boykin — who had a fifth-year of eligibility in 2019 — worked himself into becoming a third-round selection.

4t. Cornerbacks/Nickels: 28 —Troy Pride (19), Donte Vaughn (5), Shaun Crawford (3), Houston Griffith (1)

Had 2018 consensus All-American cornerback Julian Love returned for his senior year with 34 career starts, this would have been the most veteran single unit in 2019. Griffith made the transition from safety/nickel this spring to restock the cupboard, while Crawford is coming off his third major surgery and Vaughn is rehabbing from shoulder surgery.

6. Linebacker/Rover: 11 — Asmar Bilal (10), Jordan Genmark Heath (1)

Each of the past two years this position group ranked among the more veteran units, but the graduation of mainstays Drue Tranquill and Te’Von Coney make this one of the top positions in flux this time. Bilal also is moving to Mike after playing Rover last season.

7. Quarterback: 10 — Ian Book (10)

Graduate transfer Brandon Wimbush took his 16 career starts to Central Florida, joining predecessors Malik Zaire (Florida) and Everett Golson (Florida State) as former starters who opted to use their fifth season elsewhere rather than be in a backup capacity.

Where will Book be when he has the option to take a fifth season in 2020?

8. Tight Ends: 8 —Cole Kmet (7), Brock Wright (1)

Kmet regularly started in place of Finke or Claypool in double tight-end alignments with Alize Mack (now with the New Orleans Saints) last year, and Wright or even sophomore Tommy Tremble could have a similar role in 2019 now that Kmet is the ensconced starter.

9. Running Backs: 6 — Tony Jones (4), Jafar Armstrong (2)

For the second year in a row this position has the least amount of returning starts after losing top rushers in 2017 (Josh Adams) and 2018 (Dexter Williams).

Fortunately, both Jones and Armstrong played a lot of meaningful snaps last season while combining for 775 yards rushing with 10 touchdowns to go with 20 receptions that averaged nearly 16 yards per catch.


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