Liam Eichenberg Has A Chance To Be The Next Elite Notre Dame Left Tackle
The left tackle position at Notre Dame has seen nothing but great success over the last decade, and fifth-year senior Liam Eichenberg is looking to continue that tradition. Eichenberg enters his third season as the starter, which has been the pivotal season for past greats at the position.
Since Brian Kelly arrived at Notre Dame, the left tackle position has been manned by first round NFL Draft pick Zack Martin, first round NFL Draft pick Ronnie Stanley, first round NFL Draft pick Mike McGlinchey and now Eichenberg. In each instance, year three in the lineup was the campaign in which each of those players emerged as true stars.
Now Eichenberg gets his chance to do the same.
CONTINUE STRONG PASS PROTECTION
Eichenberg’s first season in the starting lineup was 2018, and he was a bit erratic in pass protection. Then a junior, Eichenberg allowed 23 total quarterback pressures (according to Pro Football Focus), but just seven came in the final seven games of the season. Eichenberg didn’t allow a single sack and gave up just one hit on the quarterback in the final eight games of that season.
The Cleveland, Ohio native carried that into the 2019 season, with Eichenberg ranking as one of the nation’s best pass blockers. Eichenberg did not allow a single sack all season and gave up just three hits on the quarterback according to PFF.
Add it up and Eichenberg has not allowed a single sack and just four total hits on the quarterback on his last 828 pass sets, which covers a span of 21 games. Eichenberg ranked as the nation’s ninth best pass blocking left tackle in the country last season from an efficiency standpoint (PFF). That includes a better grade than all but one of the six first round draft picks at tackle in 2020 (Tristan Wirfs), and he tied with another (Andrew Thomas).
Eichenberg returns as the fifth best pass blocker according to PFF, and he must continue his strong play in pass pro in his final season.
RUN BLOCKING MUST CONTINUE TO IMPROVE
Discussing Eichenberg’s run blocking from 2019 is not as easy of a story to tell. I have written plenty about his need to improve as a run blocker, but in those discussions the response is often that he struggled as a run blocker in 2019, which is not accurate.
At issue here is the tendency by some to project the play of the line as a whole onto individual players. The Notre Dame offensive line did not run block effectively in 2019, especially in bigger games. That does not, however, mean all five players up front struggled during the season, and that is true for Eichenberg.
Eichenberg was not only Notre Dame’s best run blocker last season, he was a quality run blocker compared to the rest of Power 5 tackles. If you don’t trust my analysis, consider that among Power 5 offensive tackles with at least 200 run snaps, Eichenberg ranked 11th in the country in PFF run blocking grade last season, which was better than three of the six first round tackles to get drafted in 2020.
Eichenberg ranks fifth among returning tackles that fit that criteria. That doesn’t mean Eichenberg has fully arrived as a run blocker. Consistency will be key (see below), and there is room for the talented left tackle to get more movement in the run game. Eichenberg was often assignment sound in 2019, but he wasn’t getting the push he’s capable of.
If Eichenberg wants to be an All-American in 2020, and if he wants to be a first round NFL Draft pick in 2021, he needs to get his run game production on the same level as his pass blocking production.
CAN EICHENBERG BE CONSISTENTLY DOMINANT?
There are two things that if not improved upon will keep Eichenberg from taking the final step as a player at Notre Dame. He was quite good in 2019, but he has the talent to be great in 2020. His production must now match his raw tools.
Eichenberg must be more consistent, but it’s a different kind of consistency than what we saw from him in 2019. During his first season as a starter his issue was consistency from an assignment correctness standpoint, but he cleaned that up in 2019 and was an effective player.
What plagued him in 2019 was that he wasn’t as consistently forceful as he’s capable of being. That means he would constantly execute his assignment from the standpoint of he did what he was supposed to do regarding who to block. But just executing your assignment doesn’t mean your play is impactful. When Eichenberg is at his best he is impactful as both a pass blocker and run blocker, which means he’s not only executing his assignment, he’s doing it in dominant fashion.
So the question for him in 2020 is can the flashes of brilliant play we saw in 2019 become how he performs on a more consistent basis. That is what we saw from past Irish standouts in their third season in the lineup. The talent was always there and we saw that type of great play in moments, but not consistently. In their final seasons they dominated consistently.
Can Eichenberg do that in his final season? We’ll find out soon enough.
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