Notre Dame returns one of the nation's best centers, but the rest of the interior offensive line depth chart is a bit of a question mark. The Irish will need to find early answers if the line is going to play well enough for Notre Dame to once again battle for a playoff spot.
JARRETT PATTERSON IS THE ANCHOR
There are a lot of questions about the offensive line, and the heavy personnel losses up front are why many are expecting Notre Dame to take a step back this season. The good news for Notre Dame is that it will rebuild the offensive line around one of the nation's best returning interior players, center Jarrett Patterson.
There was a lot of talk about Patterson moving to tackle or guard, but our latest intel is that he will remain at center, where he has started the last two seasons.
Patterson is expected to be fully healthy after missing the final three games of the 2021 season with a foot injury.
The California native is a smart player that knows the offense extremely well. His leadership and ability to communicate will be a significant aide to an inexperienced group that will look a lot different than it did a season ago.
Patterson is an athletic player that thrives in the Irish zone concepts and his pass protection production has been outstanding from the minute he stepped into the lineup. Being more consistent from beginning to end will be the key for Patterson, with he now enters the crucial third season as a starter, which for past Notre Dame linemen has been the time when their game really takes off.
HOW WILL CAIN MADDEN TRANSITION
Notre Dame landed Marshall transfer Cain Madden this season, and the preseason All-American adds a great deal of experience and power to the Irish lineup. Madden will have to battle for the starting job but the expectation is that the sixth-year senior will step into the starting lineup.
One question is will he play right guard - the position he played the last three seasons at Marshall - or will he shift to left guard. What we do know is that Madden is a powerful player that thrives at the point of attack. His low build, powerful lower body and hands allow him to get a lot of movement in the run game.
Madden also showed himself to be an assignment sound blocker for the Thundering Herd, and he'll need to quickly pick up the Irish offense in order to continue that in 2021.
A fundamentally sound player, Madden didn't show overly impressive athleticism or foot quickness at Marshall. When he got in trouble, which didn't happen often, it was when he was facing more athletic defenders. At Notre Dame he'll face that on a far more consistent basis, so Madden will need to show he can handle the step up in competition if he's going to live up to the hype that surrounds him.
JUNIOR CLASS IS KEY
Notre Dame's junior class, which signed as part of the 2019 recruiting class, was one of the best aspects of that recruiting haul. All four of Notre Dame's signees were ranked as Top 200 recruits, and the three remaining blockers from that class are all playing inside now, which means they are going to play a big role in the two-deep this fall.
Zeke Correll started two games at center last season, including the Rose Bowl game against Alabama, and he played relatively well in those games. Sources indicate that Correll will move to guard and compete for a starting job there.
Correll is a tough and athletic, but also short offensive lineman. Playing guard will allow him to more easily overcome his lack of girth and length, and it should allow him to use his athleticism, leverage and power to his advantage.
Classmates Quinn Carroll and Andrew Kristofic don't appear in position to battle for starting jobs in 2021, but they will play important roles nonetheless. Correll, Carroll and Kristofic will battle Madden and senior John Dirksen for positioning in the depth chart.
Carroll is a big, physical linemen that seems to be finally getting back to good health after a really bad knee injury in 2019. Kristofic has moved all around the last year, playing tackle, guard and now, apparently, center. He needs a big fall camp to lock down a spot in the two-deep, which positions him to battle for a starting job should an injury happen and to battle for a starting role in 2022.
CAN ROCCO SPINDLER MAKE A PUSH
True freshman Rocco Spindler will also be in the mix for a spot in the two-deep, if not for a starting role. Spindler's combination of size, athleticism and power are really impressive, and they made him a Top 100 prospect.
Spindler made a relatively quick transition to Notre Dame and he was a spring standout. In fact, Spindler spent much of the spring with the first team, but the return of Patterson (who missed the spring) and the arrival of Madden have Spindler battling for playing time.
The key for Spindler will be how quickly he picks up the offense and starts executing with the consistency needed to be a starter. He'll also need to continue improving his footwork, which at times this spring got him out of position.
Spindler is extremely talented and I could see him forcing himself into a rotation spot much like we saw from Robert Hainsey at tackle back in 2017.
KEY CENTER/GUARD QUESTIONS
There are four interior questions I’m looking forward to seeing answered this summer and into the fall.
1. Where does Patterson play? — I'm expecting Patterson to play center this season, but what if guards struggle, would the Irish staff then feel the need to move him around? What is there are issues at tackle, would he move outside? Patterson staying at center is partly dependent on everyone else stepping up, so if he stays at center that's probably a good sign for Notre Dame as a unit.
2. Is Madden as good as advertised? — It's not Patterson who is getting first-team All-American nods this preseason, that would be Madden. That's quite a lot of hype on a guy with very few starts against Power 5 opponents (1), but if Madden lives up to that hype it would be huge for the Notre Dame offensive line. Having a pair of All-American interior blockers would make this line very, very good.
3. Does Correll step up? — Correll showed impressive flashes in his two starts last season and he's certainly a talented, but undersized player. Will last season's experience result in him making a big jump this fall? Correll making that jump would be significant and could shore up the interior line. Correll winning the starting job and starting to play to his potential would give the Irish a talented young blocker that would be playing along with a pair of veteran interior players, and it would go a long way towards making the interior a strength of the team.
4. How will the depth chart shake out? — Who earns two-deep roles? Does Dirksen finally break out and lock down a two-deep spot, or possibly even sneak into the starting lineup? Are Carroll and Kristofic ready to improve and shore up the depth chart, and step into the lineup should an injury happen?
5. Does Spindler shake things up? — It's not often that a freshman plays up front for Notre Dame. Former stars like Quenton Nelson, Zack Martin, Liam Eichenberg, Mike McGlinchey, etc. never played as a freshmen, but Spindler was too impressive in the spring to just dismiss in year one. Does he win a starting job? Is he a rotation player? Is he just a backup? Spindler is going to be a factor this season, we just have to see how that is.
The guards and centers will play to their potential if ....
Jarrett Patterson is healthy and plays like an All-American ... Guard Cain Madden is as good as advertised ... Junior Zeke Correll finally stays healthy for a full season and quickly gets comfortable at guard ... Rocco Spindler is just too good not to play and he provides the Irish with a talented interior rotation player ... Quinn Carroll and Andrew Kristofic grow up quickly and provide strong depth.
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