Notre Dame enters the 2021 season with a lot of questions at offensive tackle. The depth chart is loaded with inexperience, with just one player getting more than seven career snaps. That's the bad news ... the good news is that Notre Dame's young and inexperienced offensive tackle depth chart is also very talented.
Here's a breakdown of the offensive tackle depth chart heading into fall camp.
NOW OR NEVER FOR JOSH LUGG
The last time we saw Josh Lugg starting for Notre Dame it wasn't pretty. The 6-7 lineman was starting at center for the Fighting Irish in the ACC Championship game. Lugg struggled in that start and his other starts at center last season, but the reality is Lugg is not a center and shouldn't have been playing the position. Injuries forced him into that role, but now Lugg is back outside at tackle.
The last time we saw Lugg at offensive tackle he was playing the best football of his career in the final five games of the 2019 season. Lugg was again thrust into the lineup because of an injury, this time to right tackle Robert Hainsey. He looked far more comfortable at tackle and his length was a benefit to him at tackle, unlike what happened when he played center.
Lugg was also banged up in 2020, and that ultimately is the key for him in 2021. If Lugg simply repeats his 2019 performance over the course of the entire season the Irish will have a solid player at right tackle. Lugg has the length, size and strength to be even better than that, but staying healthy, cleaning up his footwork and being consistent will determine if he can be a standout for Notre Dame.
WILL THE FRESHMAN PHENOM BE READY TO THRIVE
True freshman Blake Fisher was ranked as my No. 1 recruit for Notre Dame in the 2021 class, grading out as a Top 50 recruit with five-star upside. Even with those lofty expectations and with my high view of Fisher he exceeded expectations during his first spring on campus.
Fisher has elite physical tools, possessing tremendous size (6-6, 330), length and rare athleticism for a player that size. As former Notre Dame star Ryan Harris explained in an interview with Irish Breakdown, Fisher's length and foot quickness alone allow him to recover from rookie mistakes or technique miscues. When he's right the Indiana native is a physically dominant player.
Although the physical skills are special they aren't the reason Fisher performed at such a high level in the spring. Fisher showed an advanced feel for the game, a high football IQ and an on-field maturity you just don't see from a player in his first semester of college.
SOPHOMORE CLASS KEY TO DEPTH
Lugg and Fisher enter fall camp as the starters at right tackle, but the Notre Dame coaches have stressed they want competition, and that is where the sophomore class comes into play.
If not for Fisher breaking out there's a chance that Tosh Baker would have seized the left tackle position. A former Top 100 recruit himself, Baker possesses excellent length and his athleticism is certainly a strength. He struggled in the spring with pad level, footwork and strength, traits that certainly can be improved upon.
Notre Dame needs Baker to clean up his technique and be more consistent in fall camp. The Irish need Baker to seize hold of the No. 3 tackle position and start to flash his high upside on a more consistent basis. This is important for depth, as Baker can play both tackle positions. It's also important when you consider Lugg's injury history.
Fellow sophomore Michael Carmody played all over during the spring but seemed to settle in at tackle. Like Baker the Pennsylvania native can play both tackle spots and he can also play inside, but he's needed to provide tackle depth early on.
NOT QUITE READY
Freshmen Caleb Johnson and Joe Alt both have upside, especially Alt, but both also need a lot of time to develop in the weight room, to develop mechanically and to get comfortable in the offense.
KEY OFFENSIVE TACKLE QUESTIONS
There are four offensive tackle questions I’m looking forward to seeing answered this summer and into the fall.
1. Can Josh Lugg stay healthy? — I have no doubt that Lugg can at least be a solid football player for Notre Dame in 2021, assuming he can stay healthy. The problem is that's not something that should be assumed. Lugg has battled a number of nagging injuries throughout his career, something he needs to avoid this season. A healthy Lugg will go a long way towards shoring up the offensive line.
2. Will Blake Fisher player older than he is? — Fisher was brilliant in the spring .... for a freshman. When we get to the fall he can't be brilliant for a freshman, he needs to be just good. Fisher is being tasked with protecting the quarterback's blind side, a tall task for a first-year player. If Fisher flashes dominance but struggles with consistency it will cause problems. It's asking a lot for a first-year player to be steady, but that's what Notre Dame needs Fisher to be.
3. Does Tosh Baker make a much-needed jump? — If Lugg gets banged up or if Fisher struggles the Irish will be forced to thrust Baker into the lineup. Although he's talented the reality is Baker didn't look physically or technically ready to play during the spring. He needs to grow up in a hurry and make a jump this fall, which will help shore up the Irish depth chart.
4. How will the depth chart shake out behind the starters? — Notre Dame is expected to have a true freshman and two redshirt freshmen in the two deep, which is unsettling. Notre Dame needs them all to play beyond their years.
The offensive tackle depth chart will play to its potential if ….
Veteran Josh Lugg is healthy and steady, which results in him emerging as the next NFL offensive tackle for Notre Dame ... Freshman Blake Fisher is every bit as good as advertised and combines steady play with dominant blocking ... Sophomore Tosh Baker makes a big jump in fall camp and locks down the swing tackle role ... Sophomore Michael Carmody and the freshmen aren't thrust into snaps that matter but all three show growth.
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