Notre Dame Football’s Top 25 Most Important Players For The 2021 Season, No. 14: Offensive Tackle Blake Fisher
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Notre Dame’s Top 25 Most Important Players, No. 14: Blake Fisher

Throughout July, BlueandGold.com will feature a countdown of the 25 most pivotal figures counted on to help lead Notre Dame back to the College Football Playoff in 2021.

This is not necessarily about who is the best player or the top pro prospect. It’s more along the lines of individuals that need to either emerge, remain a centerpiece or significantly elevate their production to help Irish reach that goal.

Much is based on talent and impact, but a premium is also placed on these questions: 1) If you subtracted this individual from the roster, how much of a setback would it be? 2) If this less proven player emerges and makes an impact, how much does that raise the ceiling (or lower it, if a breakout does not happen as expected)?

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish football freshman offensive tackle Blake Fisher
Fisher, a five-star prospect, was Notre Dame’s highest-ranked recruit in its 2021 class. (Rivals.com)

The players and their rankings were determined by vote from five BlueandGold.com staff members.

Next in the countdown is freshman offensive tackle Blake Fisher, who collected 47 points in our poll.

Why Fisher Is Ranked No. 14

Offensive tackle is a premium position. At Notre Dame, standouts have consistently occupied it. In the context of the Irish’s 2021 season, the tackles are likely to block for quarterback Jack Coan, who is best as a pocket passer.

Fisher took most of the first-team reps at left tackle this spring. He’s on track to step right into a critical role.

The early enrollee freshman and former five-star recruit was always going to be part of Notre Dame’s future. A spring season that revealed he’s ahead of schedule compared to most freshmen might make him part of the present. Early enrollee guard Rocco Spindler had a similar fast start, but the addition of Marshall graduate transfer Cain Madden put a dent in his chances to start.

“These guys are extremely confident in their abilities,” head coach Brian Kelly said of Fisher and Spindler. “They’re not guys who play up and down. Their performance curve is up and down like everybody else’s, but their confidence stays pretty flat.

“They don’t get down on themselves. That’s a unique young player. It takes time to get to that level where you don’t have these peaks and valleys that are tagged to your performance.”

Fisher hasn’t officially been awarded the job, but he appears to be in line for it. The lack of certainty kept him lower than a starting left tackle would normally be, but his fast progress and likelihood of starting warrants a top-15 spot.

Fisher’s Status Entering The Season

Even after seeing Fisher earn first-team reps this spring, it’s hard to grasp the idea of a freshman possibly starting on Notre Dame’s offensive line.

First-year linemen have started just five times in Kelly’s tenure — Steve Elmer four times in 2013 and Robert Hainsey once in 2017. Sam Young in 2006 was the last Irish freshman to start the opener on the offensive line and start all season.

But Kelly insists Fisher is not a normal freshman.

“The position itself requires a physical ability that does not lend itself to 17- or 18-year-olds,” Kelly said. “It requires more physical training that you wouldn’t necessarily have had in high school. We have two guys in Blake Fisher and Rocco Spindler who are exceptions to that rule and physically can handle themselves against four- and five-year veteran guys who have been in the program.”

Entering training camp, Fisher and graduate student Josh Lugg are the most likely tackle tandem, with 2019-20 starting center Jarrett Patterson moving to guard.

If Notre Dame wants Patterson at tackle, that might hurt Fisher’s chances of starting — but it would help Spindler’s. Sophomore Tosh Baker, a 6-8, 300-pound tackle who is also considered a future building block, remains in the mix.

What Would Be A Successful Individual Season?

Officially winning the job would be impressive. Keeping it all year would imply he was reliable enough and that his best moments outweighed typical freshman struggles.

Staying under 25 quarterback pressures allowed in pass protection would be a success. Departed left tackle Liam Eichenberg had 23 in his first year as a starter, and he didn’t earn that role until a junior. But he grew more comfortable over the course of that 2018 season, and his play reflected it.

As much as anything else, growth is the goal for Fisher. A freshman season starting or even playing weekly snaps will be a success if he’s simply playing his best football at the end of the year. His mere consideration for a starting job, though, suggests he has already grown in areas where most freshmen haven’t at this time — physically and mentally.

“Blake, he has rare ability and size,” offensive coordinator Tommy Rees said. “Being out there at tackle, he’s able to do some things, especially in the passing game, that just come natural. The next step is understanding the intricacies of the run game, making sure you understand calls and angles and things like that. All of that comes with repetition.”

Behind The Ranking

The top 25 was determined in the same manner as the Associated Press top 25. Five BlueandGold.com staff members submitted their ballots, and each position on the ballot was given a point value. The top ranking was worth 25 points, No. 2 was worth 24, No. 3 worth 23 and so on down until No. 25, which was worth one point. The players with the 25 highest point totals made the list.

Individual rankings

Patrick Engel: 9

Tyler Horka: 17

Mike Singer: 10

Todd Burlage: 23

Steve Downey: 24

Downey on his ranking: “There is no doubt Fisher is a special talent, but history suggests that it will be difficult for him to make a major impact this season. Forty-two of 45 freshman offensive linemen have been redshirted by Notre Dame since 2008. Trevor Robinson (2008), Elmer and Hainsey are the only ones to make a significant contribution during that time.”

Burlage on his ranking: “Much of the hype during the spring season surrounded the dynamic duo of Fisher and Spindler working with the first-team unit on the left side. But following the post-spring transfer of Madden, All-American lineman at Marshall to Notre Dame, the Irish have some flexibility and have less of a need to start him if they don’t feel he’s ready.”

Prior Top 25 Rankings

No. 25: Jonathan Doerer

No. 24: Marist Liufau

No. 23: Drew Pyne

No. 22: Braden Lenzy

No. 21: Jayson Ademilola

No. 20: Chris Tyree

No. 19: Avery Davis

No. 18: Josh Lugg

No. 17: Houston Griffith

No. 16: Cam Hart

No. 15: Zeke Correll

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