Robert Hainsey Will Look To Bounce Back For Notre Dame In 2020
Notre Dame left tackle Liam Eichenberg is getting a great deal of attention heading into the 2020 season, and for good reason. Eichenberg was outstanding last season, especially in the second half of the season.
A knee injury ended Robert Hainsey’s 2019 season in the eighth game, which combines with the focus on Eichenberg to make the Irish right tackle one of the most overlooked players on the roster.
Hainsey enters the 2020 season with 25 career starts after serving a full-time starter in 2019 and 2018, and an every-other-series rotation player in 2017 when he was a true freshman. At this time a year ago the conversation about Notre Dame’s best offensive lineman focused on him, and if he is fully recovered from last season’s knee injury, Hainsey will have a chance to battle once again for that crown.
PASS BLOCKING PROWESS
Hainsey came to Notre Dame with advanced technique, and he’s a tough and gritty player. Those traits are a big reason why he was able to play as a freshman, and it has allowed him to develop into an outstanding pass blocker during his career.
According to Pro Football Focus, Hainsey allowed just eight total quarterback pressures in 2019, and just two hits on the quarterback in 252 pass snaps. Hainsey did not give up a single sack last season. In fact, Hainsey has not allowed a sack since the 2018 season opener against Michigan.
That’s a span of 20 games and over 737 snaps without giving up a sack, and in that span opponents have gotten a hit on the quarterback just three times. That makes Hainsey one of the most effective pass blockers in the entire country.
Despite not being quite as dominant in 2019 as he’s capable of being, Hainsey still returns this fall as the 11th best pass blocking tackle among Power 5 teams with at least 200 pass snaps. Two of the players ahead of him are teammates (Eichenberg, Joshua Lugg).
RUN GAME IMPROVEMENTS NEEDED
In what will be a common theme in the offensive line previews in 2020, Hainsey must get better as a run blocker. His film shows that and his Pro Football Focus grade reflects that. In fact, Hainsey actually graded out lower in the run game in 2019 than he did in 2018.
Hainsey is a bit light, checking in at 295 pounds, and he needs to put in work to get up to 295 pounds and stay there. The Pittsburgh native is quite strong in the upper body and he’s a quality athlete, but when you are on the lighter side the need for top-level technique is a must, and Hainsey’s run game technique wasn’t what it needs to be last season.
Hainsey had a couple of issues in my view. The first is his angles of attack were inconsistent, which put him in positions where finishing off blocks was more challenging than it needed to be. Hainsey also had a few too many instances where he would stop working his feet at the point of contact, which is an issue for the entire line, which tells me there’s some technique problems from a teaching standpoint.
Assuming he’s healthy and his lower body has been developed a bit more, I believe Hainsey has a chance to make a big leap in the run game this season. He has all the tools needed to thrive as a run blocker, and Hainsey has shown flashes of it. You won’t ever see him coming off the line and blowing opponents off the ball like bigger players we’ve seen, but that’s not the only recipe to success. When Hainsey is right he plays with good angles, works his feet through contact, stays locked onto opponents and gets enough movement to thrive.
We need to see that version of Hainsey more consistently in 2020.
LEADERSHIP IS KEY
Hainsey is a talented pass blocker and he’s always solid in the run game with the chance to be outstanding there too. What makes him such a valuable player, however, is that on top of his blocking prowess, Hainsey also brings a great deal of leadership to the table.
This has been an offseason unlike any we’ve seen in the modern era of sports, and success during times like this require great leadership. From reports I’ve gathered, Hainsey has been quite involved in making sure the offensive line is doing what it needs to do for everyone to be ready to thrive this season.
Hainsey will likely end his career as a two-time captain, and if he and Eichenberg continue to lead the line will have a chance to be one of the nation’s best this season.
Be sure to stay locked into Irish Breakdown all the time!