SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Call it an expected development made worse by a pair of injuries.
Notre Dame's offensive line hasn't had the kind of chemistry unit coach Harry Hiestand has been accustomed to over the last few years, but that's partly because 52-game starter Nick Martin and 37-game starter Chris Watt aren't here anymore. Another factor is the absence of center Nick Martin (who's still working his way back from a knee injury suffered in November) and right guard Christian Lombard (who underwent spring-ending surgery on a dislocated right wrist in March).
And then there's all the youth and inexperience dotting the rest of the offensive line, which currently features just one player (Ronnie Stanley) who started all 13 games for the Irish last fall. But Hiestand ultimately thinks the lack of cohesiveness could be a good thing for a developing group of linemen.
"That's not anywhere where it needs to be, it's definitely out of whack," Hiestand said of the O-line's chemistry. "We've been throwing guys all over the place. But I think in the end it'll serve us really well. That'll be something specific for training camp, we gotta get them in there working with each other with the same guys in the same spots and see some progress there."
For now, the primary grouping is Stanley at left tackle, Steve Elmer at left guard, Matt Hegarty at center, Conor Hanratty at right guard and Mike McGlinchey at right tackle. Elmer's a natural tackle and is still raw as a guard — "sometimes he looks like a newborn deer or something out there," Hiestand quipped — and could move to right tackle if McGlinchey doesn't prove to be ready come fall.
Hiestand raved about McGlinchey's upside, but said he's still adjusting to the physicality of college ball. And not having an experienced veteran in Lombard next to him (Lombard started all 13 games at right tackle for the 2012 Irish) has forced him to learn on his own, to which Hiestand again took a glass-half-full view.
"Sometime he asks in there and there's silence, because the guy in there next to him is just trying to survive," Hiestand said. "... We miss that, but also the positive side of that, it forces them to maybe learn a little bit more, you can't rely on the guy. So it's nice to have a guy that can help you along, but it also forces you to improve faster since you don't have anything you can count on."
Getting Lombard and Martin back for fall camp will certainly help shore up the chemistry, and it's worth noting too Elmer and Stanley played on the same side of the offensive line after back surgery knocked Lombard out for the final month of the 2013 season. Notre Dame's offensive line has been extremely cohesive in years past, and despite the lack of that this spring Hiestand doesn't think it'll be a problem when preparations for the upcoming season begin in earnest.
"Yes, we're concerned about the ability to function as a unit," Hiestand said, "but we'll have time to figure that out in August."