In six words or less: Hiestand key with Martin, Watt departures
Projected starters: Ronnie Stanley (LT), Steve Elmer (LG), Nick Martin (C), Christian Lombard (RG), Mike McGlinchey (RT)
Rising up the depth chart: Mike McGlinchey, Matt Hegarty, Colin McGovern
Arrivals: Quenton Nelson, Alex Bars, Jimmy Byrne, Sam Mustipher
Departures: Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Bruce Heggie
Ever since Harry Hiestand took over the offensive line in 2012, Notre Dame has done an excellent job protecting its quarterbacks. In 26 games under Hiestand, the Irish have allowed 26 sacks. For reference, Alabama -- which fielded a near-NFL caliber offensive line in 2012 -- has allowed 40 sacks over that same timeframe.
A good chunk of that success came from having two stalwarts protecting the blind side in Zack Martin and Chris Watt. But he helped develop Ronnie Stanley into a solid right tackle last year and brought true freshman Steve Elmer along to become a key reserve, and his players certainly have bought into his zone blocking sermons. The talent is there for Hiestand to mold, and he's shown he can successfully develop offensive linemen in the past.
Martin started 52 games while Watt started 37 over their time at Notre Dame, providing outstanding pass protection and run blocking on the left side of the Irish offensive line. Both of them are off the NFL, leaving a gaping hole to fill.
Hiestand's unit, though, appears to have the talent and depth to aptly fill Martin and Watt's shoes. Ronnie Stanley shifts from right tackle, where he started all 13 games for Notre Dame in 2013, to left tackle, while Steve Elmer likely will slide in at left guard, where he filled in for Watt last year. Those two players only have 17 combined starts at the college level, but their respective ceilings are high. Add in the experience of Nick Martin at center and Lombard at right guard, and the only player without any prior college experience could be Mike McGlinchey, provided he wins the right tackle job.
There's plenty of depth here, too, a welcome change from two years ago when Notre Dame barely had enough healthy offensive linemen to practice with in the weeks before the BCS Championship.
They said it
"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." -- Harry Hiestand on Notre Dame's offensive line depth
More unit previews