It’s not a matter of if Christian Lombard will start this fall, it’s a matter of where.
Barely two weeks into spring practice the junior offensive lineman has already established himself as one of the replacements on the Irish line that must fill a couple holes without right tackle Taylor Dever and right guard Trevor Robinson. Notre Dame is banking on Lombard holding down one of those spots, it’s just not clear which one.
Lombard doesn't care which position he takes this fall, just that he takes one.
“Christian’s got the length to play tackle but he’s got the ability to bend his knees and play guard,” said offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. “That’s what you always worry about, a taller guy, can he get low enough to handle a (defensive tackle) and hard, low charging defensive linemen? He’s showing that he can do both. His versatility is really good for us.”
Now, after taking a red shirt freshman season and barely hitting the field last fall, Lombard is looking at a three-year starter’s career somewhere on the Irish line. Recruited as a four-star tackle out of Fremd High School outside Chicago, Lombard played guard at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl before heading to South Bend.
Lombard doesn’t care which position he takes this fall, just that he takes one.
“My main goal is just to get on the field and play,” he said. “Whatever they want me to do, I’m going to do it. As far as guard, I love it. You’ve got to be pretty explosive. That’s a trait that I have and I’m taking everything as it comes.
“It’s my turn. It’s my turn to prove that I can play and I’ve got a lot of potential.”
Lombard showed up at right guard during the opening spring practices with Tate Nichols at right tackle. This week Lombard has moved outside with Conor Hanratty at starting right guard. As Lombard switched out, sophomore Nick Martin moved in. The younger brother of Zack Martin has swung between both positions on the second team.
Hiestand said Lombard cross-trains at virtually every practice.
Brian Kelly insists Lombard’s rise isn’t much of a surprise to the coaching staff despite the fact he couldn’t crack the lineup for meaningful minutes last season.
“We were very confident in his ability last year, but you had two senior starters coming back,” Kelly said. “So what he’s done is he’s seized the opportunity.”
As much as taking virtual back-to-back red shirt seasons could have frustrated Lombard, he arrived at Notre Dame expecting to wait his turn. The Irish snared a commitment from Lombard a full year before his National Signing Day when he committed at the U.S. Army All-American Combine in San Antonio, earning a spot in the game the next season.
Every workout and every rep since has been in preparation for this moment. That long wait hasn’t been a frustrating one.
“It’s part of the process,” Lombard said. “Offensive line, it takes a while. It’s not like a wide receiver. There’s a lot of technique to it. I feel comfortable with where I’m at right now.”