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Trench Warfare - Notre Dame line play

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submitted Today, 10:00 AM in Texas Longhorns Football By Coleman Feeley

Chalk Talk's summer series will be a preview of the line play for each of the Horns' 2015 opponents. With a focus on each side of the ball, there will be discussion of players, coaching, depth and scheme. How Texas matches up with teams in the trenches will play a big role in whether the team stumbles to another 6-6 record, or if they improve on last season's result.

Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will be one of the Longhorns' toughest tests this fall. Not only is the Irish roster talented along the lines, the two teams play each other in the first game of the season for either team. With Texas replacing veteran leaders from 2014 and relying on youthful inexperience for depth, playing the Domers in the opener is going to be a big challenge.

Offensive Line

The offensive line in South Bend is a stout group to say the least. With three returning starters including one who is a three year letterman and team captain, and another who is a projected NFL first round draft pick, the weakness of the Fighting Irish will not be in the trenches.

Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is a thirty-one year veteran of college coaching and a twenty-five year offensive line coach. He has coached all across the country in conferences like the SEC, The Big 12, and The B1G. Hiestand is a tried and tested coach with the knowledge and toughness to improve talented groups the way he did in 2012 to help the Fighting Irish average over 200 rushing yards a game. Notre Dame will lean on its offensive line to pave the way for a run-based attack implemented from a spread system.

Coach Hiestand stays true to the coaching axiom that your best five linemen should play regardless of their listed position – it is not only possible, but likely, that he will reshuffle players to best fit the talents on the roster. The projected starting line-up (from left to right) will be, Ronnie Stanley (Sr.), Nick Martin (RS Sr.), Matt Hegarty (RS Sr.), Steve Elmer (Jr.), and Mick McGlinchey (Jr.).

Fifth year senior Nick Martin has seen playing time every season since his redshirt year in 2011, all of which was at center. The younger brother to first round draft pick Zack Martin (Cowboys), Martin was an anchor in the middle of the OL until the fourth game last season when he was moved to left guard. With experience and talents that are invaluable to the run game as well as pass protection, Martin’s ability to change positions seamlessly has added to his NFL stock. Additionally, with another fifth-year senior at center, Notre Dame’s O-Line won’t necessarily take a hit without his guidance.

Senior left tackle Ronnie Stanley is also a three year letterman who made his debut at right tackle back in 2011. Standing 6’5’’ and weighing in at 313 pounds, Stanley is a textbook offensive tackle and a projected first round pick in the 2016 NFL draft. After only allowing one sack in the entire 2014 season, Stanley is a terror on the field and isn’t afraid to let his opponent know about it – he is a noted trash-talker. Choosing to forego a potential first or second round draft selection following last season, Stanley says he’s returning to South Bend with the goal of winning a national championship. With Stanley and Martin playing side by side it really will be, in the immortal words of Gary Bertier, “Left side! Strong side!â€

The Fighting Irish offensive line will average 6’5.5â€, 313 pounds, making it one of the biggest OL’s in Division 1. Texas’ defensive line will play aggressively and will be expected to disrupt the Irish offense. By switching between three and four-man fronts, Texas needs to disguise rushers and catch the Notre Dame offense by surprise. If the Horns can do so, there will be possibilities to capitalize on some big tackles for loss. However, with Notre Dame’s firm commitment to a solid run game, Texas will most likely play more four man fronts and keep their heavy defensive lineman in the game for a majority of the snaps.

Defensive Line

Notre Dame will operate a four-man defensive front and add four players to that rotation. However, with a brand new defensive line coach things are poised to change. Keith Gilmore is a thirty year coaching veteran with stints at North Carolina, Illinois, and Cincinnati. Gilmore tutored four NFL draft picks while at Illinois, and has four first round NFL draft picks on his resume. Often times defensive lineman are taught to occupy the offensive line in order to free linebackers and safeties to make tackles, but that is not the case with Gilmore – he coaches his players to act aggressively and cause a great deal of disruption in the back field.

Similar to the Irish’s offensive line, it’s highly probable that the projected starters will mix up their playing time and positions along d-line. However, going into the season the four projected starters are: Isaac Rochell (DE, Jr.), Sheldon Day (DT, Sr.), Jarrod Jones (DT, Sr.), and Andrew Trumbetti (DE, So.).

Sheldon Day is a three year letterman and team captain for the Fighting Irish whose first playing time came as a true freshman. Previously a defensive end, Day moved inside and continues to play at an extremely high level. Standing 6’2’’, and weighing 285 pounds, he has a great frame to play defensive line. Day’s experience and skill will allow him to play both on the interior and on the end of the defensive front. Following a somewhat underwhelming 2014 season, Kelly and Gilmore have high expectation for Day to lead a seasoned group of defensive linemen throughout the season.

Accompanying Day is sophomore Andrew Trumbetti. Last season Trumbetti played in all 13 games with his first start coming in the last game of the season. Prognosticators agree that Trumbetti is poised to have a tremendous career at Notre Dame. Standing 6’3’’ and weighing 250 pounds, he has the potential to gain even more “good weight†in his years at Notre Dame which should elevate his play. There are great expectations for Trumbetti as he enters his second year – only time will tell what his potential holds. Regardless, the Horns will locate 98 before every play.

The Texas offensive line will be tested throughout the game to defend this experienced and extremely talented group. Like any team, much of Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline’s production will be dependent upon successful blocking. With an offensive line that returns all of its starters, Texas’ blockers should operate smoothly and communicate more efficiently than they did in 2014. The aggressive style that Texas’ own defensive line plays in practice will help UT's offensive line prepare for the Fighting Irish.

In the trenches, Game #1 projects as one of the toughest games of the season. However, with the loss of starting quarterback and Heisman-hopeful Everett Golston to transfer, as well as starting running back Greg Bryant to a suspension, the tilt in South Bend could be a low scoring affair. It will be a game decided in the trenches and, as such, it will have an impact on the attitude of both Texas lines for the remainder of the season. 

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Damn fine analysis, Coleman.


The running game needs to be established early against the IrisH which requires the Texas o-line to stand tall. We've heard they have improved since last season but How much, we dont know.


This is the biggest stage Swoopes will have played on..... The wideouts need to haul in anything within arms reach.


Is it football season yet?!

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Great article! I think you covered the overall line situation well. Here are a few additional thoughts from this Irish fan:


Matt Hegarty transferred to Oregon before spring practice as a graduate transfer. He struggled at times filling in for Nick Martin at center, and it was unlikely that he would win a starting job this year. Martin shifted to left guard last year due to a thumb injury that hindered his grip on the ball. He has since recovered from that injury, and he is expected to start at center again this year. The starting left guard will be one of two redshirt freshmen, Quenton Nelson or Alex Bars. Most agree that Nelson has the edge based on spring performance. He is the more natural guard, whereas Bars will likely be the back-up tackle this year and take over for Stanley at left tackle after Ronnie departs for the league. Speaking of Stanley, I have never heard him referred to as a trash talker, nor have I ever seen him talking trash in a game. There are plenty of Irish players who run their mouths (as is common in college football these days), but I would not count him among that crowd.


As for the defensive line, Jarron Jones missed the last few games of the season due to a LisFranc injury, which he had surgically repaired toward the end of November. The recovery time for such an injury varies greatly. While there have been rumors that Jarron is on track to be a full participant in fall camp, most Irish fans would put him in the "wait and see" category. If he misses additional time, the ND coaches will have a few options. I would like to see Rochell move inside and Sheldon Day move back to SDE, where he has been more productive in the past. That would mean one of three true Sophomores starting inside next to Rochelle: Cage, Hayes, or Blankenship. All three saw some game action last year due to injuries, but all three would also (at this stage in their respective careers) be a step down from Jones. Trumbetti will likely start at WDE.


With the departure of Golson, the Irish will now have a southpaw starting QB. This will not affect the make-up of the offensive line, however, as Stanley will remain at LT and 6' 7.5" redshirt Sophomore Mike McGlinchey will protect Zaire's blindside from RT. While everyone was disappointed to hear of Greg Bryant's suspension, he was the second string running back behind starter Tarean Folston. Bryant's impending suspension was known by the staff before spring practice, and slot WR C.J. Prosise received reps at running back during the spring to fill the void. While not a true running back, C.J. does have home run speed and he hits the hole hard at 220lbs. Bryant's absence may open the door for true Freshman Dexter Williams to get some carries as well. You are absolutely correct that with Zaire under center, the ND offense will be run oriented. Still, Zaire is fully capable of chucking the rock, and he has a stable of experienced WRs and TEs to help in that respect.


One thing we can all agree on: September 5 cannot get here fast enough! Thanks for your time.

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