Notre Dame must replace four starting offensive linemen, and that includes both starting guards. Our replace and reload series continues by looking at what’s next for Notre Dame at both left and right guard.
WHAT WAS LOST
Notre Dame lost two veteran players at guard when Tommy Kraemer (37 career starts) and Aaron Banks (31 career starts) both ended their Irish careers.
Banks was a consensus All-American in 2020, earning 1st-Team AA honors from the Associated Press, American Football Coaches Association and ESPN, and 2nd Team honors from Sporting News, Walter Camp and Phil Steele.
Kraemer earned 3rd-Team All-American honors from the Associated Press and honorable mention All-American honors from Phil Steele despite missing two games. Kreamer was also a first team All-ACC player from both the media and the league, as did Banks.
Replacing the size, production and experience that Banks and Kraemer brought to the game will be impossible in 2021. At this point the Irish will look to get consistent play from whoever steps into the lineup, and there is talent returning, but the lost experience won’t start to be settled until the replacements get a lot of seasoning.
GIBBONS GETS HIS CHANCE
When Liam Eichenberg went down with an eye injury against Florida State and Banks moved out to left tackle, it was Dillan Gibbons that stepped into the lineup at left guard, and he held his own. When Joshua Lugg moved to center for Syracuse, Gibbons got the starting nod at right guard, and he had a quality performance.
Gibbons now enters his fifth season with a golden opportunity to seize one of the starting guard spots. The Clearwater, Fla. native was part of the same class that brought Notre Dame Banks, Lugg and Robert Hainsey. He earned Scout Team Player of the Year honors as a true freshman (2017) and has been in the two-deep each of the last two seasons, getting over 200 snaps.
A tough grinder inside, Gibbons brings good size (6-4, 309) and power to the guard position. He’s more of a short-area athlete, but he handled pass protection quite well this season, not allowing a sack and only one hurry (according to pro Football Focus) in 47 pass snaps.
Gibbons will need to prove he can handle a full-time spot, but if he carries what we saw from him against Syracuse into his fifth season he’ll be just fine. If Gibbons does in fact lock down a starting spot it will mean Notre Dame has at least three veteran players in the lineup with starting experience (joining Lugg and Jarrett Patterson), which could somewhat soften the blow of losing so many talented and experienced starters.
My only question with Gibbons is does he start out at left guard or right guard.
LAST CHANCE FOR DIRKSEN
Rising senior John Dirksen has only played 89 snaps the last two seasons, which was due mainly to the depth of talented, older players on the roster. Dirksen got his most extensive action in the team’s win over Pitt, and he graded out well.
When talking to sources close to the program I get two consistent responses about Dirksen. One is that he’s one of the more talented guards on the roster. Two is that he’s had a hard time taking the technique he is taught in drills and translating it into consistent execution in team and game periods.
That second observation will be what determines if Dirksen wins a starting job this offseason, or if he finishes his career as a rotation player or backup. Dirksen has the experience and talent to not only start, but to be an effective blocker for the Irish. He is big (6-5, 306), he is athletic, he shows a good punch and he has impressive length. He lacks no physical skills that are needed to play guard at a high level, now he just needs to prove he has the mental traits needed to play the position at a high level.
Rising sophomore Michael Carmody is a talented young blocker, but he played just two snaps this season, and they were as part of the PAT squad. That means everything we know about him is what we saw from him in high school. With so many question marks at the position, a strong offseason from Carmody could launch him into a legit competition for a starting role.
Notre Dame welcomes two very talented freshmen blockers to the roster this spring, Blake Fisher and Rocco Spindler. Fisher was recruited to play tackle while Spindler was recruited to play guard.
Freshmen rarely come in and play along the offensive line, but Spindler and Fisher are extremely talented players. I would expect Fisher to start out at tackle, but if an opportunity to allow him to compete earlier at guard comes along, he and the Irish staff should strongly consider it.
POSSIBLE POSITION MOVES
Barring injury or regression, Lugg will be a starter for Notre Dame in 2021. This analysis assumes that Lugg will start out at right tackle, which is his natural position. Lugg moved to guard and then center due to him being the sixth man and due to his versatility. If some of the up-and-coming tackles (Andrew Kristofic, Quinn Carroll, Tosh Baker) are ready to earn a starting role, and if Notre Dame moves Patterson to tackle, there’s a chance Lugg could move back inside to guard.
If Lugg stays outside and Patterson is moved outside, there’s a good chance Notre Dame moves one of Kristofic or Carroll inside to guard. Both are talented but inexperienced players, and both are talented enough to compete for starting jobs in 2021.
Should one, or both, of those players move inside it would be to battle for a starting role.
1. Where do Lugg and Patterson end up - Where Notre Dame decides to play Lugg and Patterson will shake up where everyone else lines up. Both could end up at guard, which completely changes this analysis, or both could end up somewhere else. That must first be determined, and then we’ll know who is competing for the starting guard spots.
2. Is Gibbons ready to step into the spotlight - Gibbons will get his chance to start this spring, and we’ll find out this spring if he’s ready to seize hold of a starting role and if he’s able to fill the enormous shoes of Banks or Kraemer.
3. Can Dirksen take advantage of his opportunity - Like Gibbons, Dirksen also will likely get first crack at a starting role. It will be his best chance to earn a starting role, and it could be his last if he can’t get it done. If the light finally goes on for Dirksen he could be a breakout player for the Irish line.
4. Will anyone else move to guard - There’s a chance we could see someone at tackle move inside, or possibly Lugg or Patterson. If that happens it would certainly shake things up.
Past Replace and Reload Features
Replace and Reload: Quarterback
Replace and Reload: Tight End
Replace and Reload: Boundary Receiver
Replace and Reload: Field Receiver
Replace and Reload: Left Tackle
Replace and Reload: Right Tackle
Replace and Reload: Guard
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