SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- With a week until the season opener, Notre Dame's coaches havent settled on its starting offensive line, although they're close to making that decision.
Three spots are set: Zack Martin at left tackle, Chris Watt at left guard and Nick Martin at center. Christian Lombard will start, too, almost certainly at right guard.
That leaves one more spot open, at right tackle, with sophomore Ronnie Stanley and freshman Steve Elmer fighting for time there.
"It's not something that we're ready to commit to right now," coach Brian Kelly said on Thursday. "Both of those guys are going to play. Elmer and Stanley are going to play. As I cautioned everybody earlier, we like them both, and they're both really good. So I think we should all be very excited that both of those guys can come in and help us win."
Stanley missed practice time this week due to a concussion, although Kelly expects him back for Monday's practice. Guard Conor Hanratty returned to practice this week, but ran with the No. 2 offensive line -- if he were going to start, Lombard could've moved back to tackle and he could've slid in at guard. Instead, Lombard remained at right guard while Elmer played right tackle.
For the better part of the preseason, though, Stanley has ran with the No. 1 offensive line at right tackle. Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said Stanley is still figuring out how to play the position, but "the arrow is pointing up for him."
The same can be said for Elmer, who's been universally praised by coaches and teammates since coming to South Bend last winter as an early-enrolling freshman. He has a tendency to go all-out on every play, something Hiestand and Watt both said he'll have to rein in a bit. But his strength, explosiveness and quickness all profile well not just for 2013, but for the next four years.
Notre Dame started the same five players on its offensive line for all 13 games last season, partly out of necessity thanks to a thin depth chart. There's far more depth for Hiestand to work with this fall, and that's allowed the Irish to wait until a week before the season opener to decide on its starting five. It's a group that may not have the same consistency as it did last year.
And that's not a bad thing.