Two seasons ago, Notre Dame likely wouldn't have made the BCS Championship had one of its starting offensive linemen missed time with an injury. Fortunately for the Irish, that precarious depth issue wasn't a problem as the same five linemen started all 13 games.
While Notre Dame's 2014 offensive line won't have left side stalwarts Zack Martin and Chris Watt, what the unit will have this coming fall is far better depth.
Harry Hiestand's unit returns six linemen -- Christian Lombard, Ronnie Stanley, Nick Martin, Steve Elmer, Conor Hanratty and Matt Hegarty -- with starting experience. Rising sophomore right tackle Mike McGlinchey may relegate Hanratty and Hegarty to reserve duty, too.
And behind those seven guys is a group of inexperienced players with good upside that'll allow Notre Dame to go at least two deep at all five O-line positions.
Rising junior Mark Harrell and rising sophomores Hunter Bivin, Colin McGovern and John Montelus won't compete for starting roles this fall, but do provide the kind of depth Hiestand likes.
"It's just a matter of time," Hiestand said. "They're tough, physical, strong, they got good athletic ability and they can make all the blocks. It's just a matter of learning the technique and being able to play at a high level every snap when things change.
"… The talent's there, the effort, the talent, the size, the strength is outstanding. And then it's just time. It's just weight room and studying and learning."
McGovern was singled out by coach Brian Kelly as someone who impressed during spring practice, while Bivin and Montelus came to Notre Dame rated as four-star recruits. Those four depth guys, combined with the seven other players competing for starting spots, give Notre Dame a solid two-deep before four freshmen linemen come to campus this summer.
The plan heading into fall camp is to redshirt Quenton Nelson, the only five-star recruit in Notre Dame's 2014 class, and four-star linemen Alex Bars, Jimmy Byrne and Sam Mustipher. But Elmer did see playing time as a true freshman last fall, so Hiestand isn't ruling anything out.
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"We always want them coming in thinking they're going to play, and our attitude in the summer and now when we talk with them, we expect them to come in here and compete to play," Hiestand said. "And they need to have that attitude. So all four of them are excited about that opportunity. Our preference would be to redshirt them, but if they come in and they show the ability to help our football team they're going to do that."
Notre Dame had 13 scholarship offensive linemen in 2013; that number will rise to 15 this fall. In 2012, Notre Dame only had 12. With numerous injuries rapidly depleting that depth, Notre Dame wasn't able to go full contact during practice for the BCS Championship -- one factor Kelly pointed to as to why the Irish were slammed by Alabama.
If Notre Dame reaches its lofty goal of making the inaugural College Football Playoff, the hope would be better O-line depth will help keep history from repeating itself.