Up next in the replace and reload series is a breakdown of the Notre Dame left tackle position, which must replace a three-year starter.
WHAT WAS LOST
Every left tackle to start at Notre Dame during the Brian Kelly tenure has gone on to become a first-round NFL Draft pick, a string of success that should continue now that Liam Eichenberg has concluded his Irish career.
Eichenberg started 38 straight games for Notre Dame, and he got better and better each season. He was solid in 2018, highly effective in 2019 and he was downright outstanding in 2020.
The Cleveland native earned consensus All-American honors this past season, earning first-team honors by Sporting News, the American Football Coaches Association, the Football Writers Association of America, Walter Camp, CBS Sports, The Athletic and Phil Steele. He was named a second-team All-American by the Associated Press.
Eichenberg was also voted as the best blocker in the ACC by the league's head coaches and defensive coordinators. Eichenberg allowed just three sacks in his 38 starts, but all of them came within his first five starts. Eichenberg did not allow a single sack in the final 33 starts of his career.
IS JARRETT PATTERSON THE ANSWER?
The first question Notre Dame must answer as it looks to put together its 2021 offensive line is what to do with Jarrett Patterson. The rising senior started 22 games at center for Notre Dame in the last two seasons, but he was recruited to play tackle. Patterson moved to center because he was one of the five best blockers on the roster and center was an open position, but he started at tackle as a freshman.
Patterson is an athletic player that played left tackle in high school, and he has traits that could excel at the position. The California native has quick feet, a strong base and he showed the feel in space to thrive at tackle during a prep player.
He lacks the length we saw from Eichenberg, Mike McGlinchey and Ronnie Stanley (the last three starting left tackles), but his body and game resembles that of Zack Martin, who manned the position from 2010-13.
If Patterson did in fact move to left tackle I would have no doubt that he would quickly adjust and adapt to the position, giving the Irish an experienced and talented player to replace Eichenberg. Moving to tackle would also enhance Patterson's draft profile.
IF NOT PATTERSON, THEN WHO?
Should the staff decide to keep Patterson at center, or perhaps move him to guard, it would mean the left tackle position is open. The top returner at the position is rising junior Andrew Kristofic, a talented player in his own right.
Kristofic has just 70 career snaps, but he's been a number two player on the depth chart in each of the last two seasons. Kristofic is a quality athlete with impressive length, but he needed time to build up his frame and add the necessary strength to play at a high level.
This is a big offseason for Kristofic, who gets his first chance to earn a starting role. Should Patterson stay inside it would tell me the staff believes Kristofic is capable of quickly locking down one of the two open tackle spots. Even if Patterson moves to left tackle, we could still see Kristofic move to right tackle and battle for that spot.
Rising sophomore Tosh Baker is another player to keep an eye on this spring. Baker played just seven snaps this past season, but that's not overly surprising. He needed time to build up his body, and he still might be a year away. If Baker was able to add the necessary girth and strength during his first season on campus he could make some noise at the position during the spring.
If I had to guess I would say Baker is probably still a year away, but his upside at the position is extremely high.
1. What does the staff do with Patterson - Figuring out what to do with Patterson is the first question that must be answered this spring. Once Patterson's role for 2021 is determined the staff can then go about figuring out the other four positions.
2. Is Kristofic ready to emerge - Part of the decision on what to do with Patterson and Joshua Lugg will have to do with the staff's confidence in Kristofic being able to step into the lineup. If he's ready to seize a starting role it gives the staff some flexibility on what to do with the two veterans.
3. How quickly can Tosh Baker get up to speed - Baker has tremendous upside, but he came to Notre Dame on the light side. Is one year enough for him to add the necessary girth and strength? If the answer is yes he could make a push for a starting role, but if he needs more time you'll likely see him slide into the No. 2 left tackle spot while he continues to build up his frame.
Past Replace and Reload Features
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