football Edit

Jarrett Patterson: Notre Dame's Processing Center

Entering last spring’s first day of practice, there was in reality only one mystery on offense when it came to the stating lineup: who would replace Sam Mustipher, the starting center every game from 2016-18?

Fifth-year senior Trevor Ruhland was next in line after having groomed behind Mustipher, but Luke Jones was recruited specifically for the position in 2018, and maybe incoming freshman Zeke Correll could throw his hat into the ring as an early entrant.

How about junior right tackle Robert Hainsey, who could play any position on the line and with his leadership provide stability in the middle?

Sophomore Jarrett Patterson moved the move from No. 2 left tackle to starting center this spring.
Sophomore Jarrett Patterson moved the move from No. 2 left tackle to starting center this spring. (Mike Miller)

The answer was “none of the above.”

From the first snap of spring right through the first one-third of this season, 6-4 ½, 300-pound former tackle Jarrett Patterson has been ensconced as the starting center.

It helped that Ruhland along with junior walk-on center Colin Grunhard were both sidelined by injuries this spring, while Jones halfway through spring transferred back to his home state Arkansas Razorbacks. And at 275 pounds, Correll was going to need more ballast in the britches at this level of competition.

But Patterson did not necessarily win the position by default, either. It was determined by the Fighting Irish staff shortly after the playoff loss to Clemson that “the fifth best lineman” to join returning starters Hainsey, Tommy Kraemer, Liam Eichenberg and Aaron Banks was the Mission Viejo (Calif.) native Patterson.

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That was the way it was with 2012-17 offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who transitioned former tackle/guard Nick Martin to center in 2013-15 en route to become a second-round pick and current millionaire with the Houston Texans, and also put Mustipher (now with the Chicago Bears) at center after he too had no previous experience there.

And that’s the way it is with second-year Irish line coach Jeff Quinn.

“Coach Quinn talks about he wants the five best guys on the field.” Patterson said. “If all five guys are tackles, two are going to play guard and [one] has to play center. I completely accepted that. … Any opportunity to see the field.”

In fact, all five current starters — who could all conceivably return in 2020 — began their careers as tackles at Notre Dame. Patterson did too last season as the top backup for Eichenberg on the left side, appearing in three games but still preserving a year of eligibility.

Patterson still refers to it as “a really smooth transition,” but it has come with its adjustments, not the least of which was taking hundreds of reps snapping in shot-gun sets while having to come out of a stance with a defender right atop him.

“You’re in contact a lot faster,” said Patterson of a primary learning curve. “Even pass setting, you’re going to have contact right away.”

The two most conspicuous factors in his development or processing is one, he has been in a college weight training program only two years, and two, his pad level. At tackle, Patterson’s rangy frame was an asset while playing more upright, especially in pass pro, but a squatty frame such as Mustipher’s (who was two inches shorter) can often be more advantageous in leverage at center.

“Sam was much more of a brawler at that age,” said head coach Brian Kelly, also noting the difference in stature. “Sam got by on being such a big kid early on. He was thick. He had the nuances of the position down.

“Jarrett is still learning the position and the nuances, but he makes up for it. He’s long and athletic. He’s really smart as a football player. Having played (tackle), he has great awareness for the offensive line and what’s going on.”

“Sam had really good pad level,” Patterson agreed, but pointing out that his athleticism will also be an asset in the long run.

“I feel like overall I can move pretty well laterally,” he said. “It just felt right for me. Snapping the ball just took repetition. … Every game I start, I get a lot more confidence in my ability. I definitely trust my technique more.”

As a high school senior, Patterson had originally committed to Arizona State, but after head coach Todd Graham was fired by the Sun Devils and as Patterson’s stock continued to ascend, he began to gravitate more toward Notre Dame. Newly hired line coach Quinn — who had been a right-hand man for Kelly for two decades — sealed the deal while landing his first recruit for the Irish.

“With him being with Coach Kelly so long, he understands the offense and he does a really good job of teaching scheme, which has really helped me understand the playbook,” said Patterson of Quinn.

Equally important was Patterson's feeling during his official visit that he fit right in with the personnel already on the team.

The offense has often bogged down the last two weeks versus No. 3 Georgia and then No. 18 Virginia, but Patterson sensed a rhythm began building in the fourth quarter versus the Cavaliers when the running game’s 15 attempts produced 120 yards and a clinching touchdown.

“It was a good confidence boost for us,” Patterson said. “We felt like we finished that game physical and strong. We just have to keep it going.”


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