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Notre Dame Offensive Line Taking Center Stage

Making assumptions or reaching conclusions during spring practice can be a misleading endeavor.

Two springs ago, it appeared top-50 recruit Houston Griffith was the hand-picked successor to play boundary corner opposite Troy Pride. It didn't turn out that way, with Griffith moving to reserve safety later that fall.

Last year, prior to the global pandemic that cancelled spring drills, it seemed certain that the junior receiving trio of Kevin Austin, Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys would be the starting group. Injuries ended up limiting them to 16 receptions among them, while fifth-year seniors Javon McKinley and Ben Skowronek took over top roles.

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Notre Dame football offensive line coach Jeff Quinn
Offensive line coach Jeff Quinn has plenty of options to assess this spring and beyond. (Darren Yamashila/USA TODAY Sports)

And among this year's spring assumption has been that two-year starting center Jarrett Patterson, sidelined while recovering from November foot surgery, eventually will be shifted to tackle in August so that junior Zeke Correll can take over the snapping duties in the starting lineup and get the five best offensive linemen on the field collectively.

Head coach Brian Kelly even hinted so much at the outset of spring drills when he indicated that assumed No. 1 right tackle Josh Lugg would move inside to guard once August training camp commences.

That might indeed occur ... but not so fast on such moves, Kelly indicated following Notre Dame’s seventh spring practice, held this Saturday.

“We’re not closing our minds towards any combinations along the offensive line,” Kelly emphasized. “And I say that because I want to keep it competitive. I don’t want to give Zeke the starting job at center because I want to keep the competition.”

And it’s not just about competition at center, where junior Andrew Kristofic and sophomore Michael Carmody have also taken some reps in the first half of spring. Rather, it’s about keeping the entire offensive line roster engaged to earn starting roles.

Even though Correll started at North Carolina and the College Football Playoff against Alabama in place of the injured Patterson and “did a nice job,” per Kelly, it doesn’t entitle him to the starting spot until all participants are involved.

“He’s not the starting center yet,” Kelly said. “Jarrett Patterson can go play that center position and we’re a good football team … I’ve got to keep [Correll] growing and getting better. He’s got a lot to work on. I’m not ready to tell Coach [Jeff] Quinn that we’re penciling him in the fall.

“Patterson can go play that position in a heartbeat and we know what we’re going to get. That’s why we’re seeing a lot of Rocco Spindler at guard, [Andrew] Kristofic and [Dillan] Gibbons. We’re keeping our options open.”

What if the two left tackles — sophomore Tosh Baker and early entrant Blake Fisher — distinguish themselves as the two best options on the edge, resulting in Lugg moving inside?

What if Kristofic, Gibbons and Spindler become the best options at guard? No matter what, Patterson is not going to be squeezed out of a starting role, be it at center, tackle or even guard.

“No one is getting granted that job,” said Kelly of the center spot, which applies to four other vacated slots from last year. “…I want to keep competition in the spring.”

In other words, don’t anticipate a concrete starting lineup named at the end of the May 1 Blue-Gold Game. August, and maybe even beyond, should provide more overall knowledge.

Tomorrow: Zeke Correll.



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