Notre Dame’s Top 25 Most Important Players, No. 18: Josh Lugg
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)?
The players and their rankings were determined by vote from five BlueandGold.com staff members.
Next in the countdown is graduate student offensive lineman Josh Lugg, who collected 45 points in our poll.
Why Lugg Is Ranked No. 18
Notre Dame has one fifth-year offensive lineman and one player who has started a game at tackle. It’s Lugg. He is one of three returning linemen with starting experience — and his eight starts have come at three positions. On a young line in age and in-game work, he’s a commodity because he has played in high-leverage situations and has versatility.
Five of Lugg’s starts were at right tackle in place of Robert Hainsey in 2019. In 2020, though, he started at center (twice) and guard (once). Tackle is his most likely position entering 2021 and where he worked during spring practice.
“I think he feels most comfortable at the tackle position,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “That’s where we have settled in our own mind as well. This was always going to be about how the other pieces were going to fall in line to see what the ultimate position was going to be for Josh.”
Notre Dame also needs Lugg to be a leader on the offensive line, a position that takes as much pride as any other in the program in setting standards and passing them down. Lugg is the only remaining player on the roster who overlapped with top-10 NFL Draft picks Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, two revered figures who embraced setting examples.
Lugg offers plenty as a leader at a position in need of them after losing four seniors, including captains Hainsey and Liam Eichenberg. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees has challenged him to grab that role.
“That was a conversation Coach Rees and I had at the beginning of this winter and this spring,” Lugg said in April. “‘How do I balance between being a leader for this team and also understanding I have to be selfish in my preparation knowing I need to be the best offensive lineman for this unit?’ I need to work with these younger guys but also understand I need to get more reps for myself.”
Lugg’s Status Entering The Season
The expectation since the offseason started has been Lugg will start somewhere. An up-and-down 2020 with some nagging injuries didn’t totally dispel that assumption.
“This is his opportunity now,” Eichenberg said. “He will start on the offensive line this year, there’s no doubt about that. I think he’s going to do very well. He’s a guy who understands his technique and fundamentals, a guy who stuck it out, who’d do anything or sacrifice anything for the offensive line.”
The 6-7 Lugg dealt with some back issues throughout last season that hampered his mobility. He said he weighed 321 pounds on Nov. 27, when Notre Dame played at North Carolina. He dropped to 291 pounds in February and was back at 300 in the spring. He wants to be between 305 and 310 this season.
“If I’m a little lighter, I’ll be able to move better and it’s not going to be such a strain on the back,” Lugg said in the spring. “That really helped. I haven’t had any issues come up since the end of the season last year. I feel strong.”
What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?
If Lugg starts all 13 games and plays like he did in 2019, Notre Dame will get reliable play at right tackle all year. That should be the expectation for the oldest and second-most experienced returning player on the offensive line.
Lugg played 431 snaps in six games (five starts) after Hainsey’s injury in 2019. In that span, he allowed zero sacks and seven quarterback pressures. Pro Football Focus gave him an 83.0 pass-blocking grade, second-highest among Notre Dame linemen that season behind only Eichenberg.
All told, there’s a lot of change and youth around Lugg. It portends some volatility in the early going. Notre Dame is counting on him to provide steadiness.
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.
Patrick Engel: 18
Tyler Horka: Not ranked
Mike Singer: 7
Todd Burlage: 16
Steve Downey: 18
Singer on his ranking: “Protecting the quarterback is extremely important in today’s game, and Lugg has been a mainstay in the Notre Dame’s offense for the past couple of seasons. If other offensive linemen go down, Lugg has proven that he has superb versatility. He could play any five of the offensive line spots. He seems likely to start at right tackle this fall, which is deserving of a top-10 selection on position alone.”
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
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