Story Poster
Photo by Greg Swiercz / USA TODAY
Texas A&M Football

Rebuilding offensive line primary concern for Notre Dame in 2024

May 21, 2024
7,355

Notre Dame will have a good football season. But how good?

The Irish could be better than the 10-3 edition, which finished ranked No. 14 in the final polls last season. But that would require successfully rebuilding a spectacular offensive line and adequately replacing a productive quarterback and standout running back.

Or it will require fielding a defense so strong it can carry the team to 10 wins.

That may indeed be the case.

The defense in South Bend, especially the secondary, legitimately could be better than the unit that ranked fifth in the country in 2023.

Seven starters are back from that defense which last season held nine opponents to 20 points or less.

The Irish are particularly powerful in the defensive backfield. Safety Xavier Watts was the defensive player of the year in 2023, while cornerback Benjamin Morrison earned All-American acclaim.

Also, safety Rod Heard II, a two-year starter at Northwestern, came in via the transfer portal to bolster the secondary.

The Irish could be better than the 10-3 edition, which finished ranked No. 14 in the final polls last season. But that would require successfully rebuilding a spectacular offensive line and adequately replacing a productive quarterback and standout running back.

The defensive front is formidable, too. Howard Cross III, one of nine sons of former NFL players on the Notre Dame roster, is back to build on his 2023 performance in which he posted 66 tackles.

He’s joined by returning starter Jordan Botelho and Rylie Mills.

Notre Dame lost edge rusher Javontae Jean-Baptiste, who led in sacks last season, to the NFL, but picked up through the transfer portal linebacker R.J. Oben. He led Duke in sacks last season.

There are concerns at linebacker, though no major worries.

That’s not the case on offense — particularly up front.

Gone are tackles Joe Alt, an All-American, and Blake Fisher. Alt was the fifth player selected in the NFL Draft. Fisher was a second-round pick for the Houston Texans.

The interior linemen are solid, but efforts to shore up the tackle position via the transfer portal came up empty.

That’s potentially problematic in protecting quarterback Riley Leonard, a transfer from Duke. Leonard already has a tall task of replacing Sam Hartman, who passed for 2,689 yards and 24 touchdowns.

But Leonard has to do it behind a questionable line and with good, though not great receivers and coming off ankle surgery that forced him to miss much of spring drills.

Further, the Irish may not be able to rely as heavily on its running game. Powerful Audric Estimé, a fifth-round draft choice, rushed for 1,341 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.

Notre Dame likely looks to sophomore Jeremiyah Love to try to replace that production. He gained 385 yards and scored one touchdown in a backup role.


 

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

2023 record: 10-3

Gaby Velasquez/ El Paso Times
Notre Dame ended the 2023 season with a 40-8 pounding of Oregon State at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.

Primary area of strength: The Irish were ranked fifth in the nation in total defense in 2023. The unit projects to be strong again. All-American Benjamin Morrison is among the nation’s top cornerbacks. Safety Xavier Watts won the Nagurski Award. The Irish lost sacks leader Javontae Jean-Baptiste, but Howard Cross III and Rylie Mills are back in the defensive line. Edge rusher R.J. Oben comes in from the transfer portal. Linebacker Jack Kiser is in his sixth year.

Primary area of concern: Offensive line is typically a strength in South Bend. That’s doesn’t appear the case this year. The tackles positions are particularly worrisome with the loss of NFL draft choices Joe Alt and Blake Fisher. Projected left tackle Charles Jagusah is better suited to play guard. Projected right tackle senior Tosh Baker has been a career backup. Hopes to improve there via the transfer portal were unsuccessful. The interior line should be solid with guard Pat Coogan and Billy Schrauth.

Top three players

  • CB Benjamin Morrison: All-American corner and Thorpe Award semifinalist posted 31 tackles, three interceptions and a team-leading 10 passes broken up as a sophomore.
  • DL Howard Cross III: A second-team All-American, Cross recorded a whopping 66 tackles from his one tackle position last season. That included a pair of sacks.
  • S Xavier Watts: Unanimous All-American and recipient of the Nagurski Award as the nation’s top defensive player. Last season, Watts had seven interceptions, broke up four passes, posted 52 tackles and returned a fumble for a touchdown.

Key additions

  • QB Riley Leonard: A transfer from Duke, Leonard was slowed by injury in 2023. He passed for 1,102 yards and three touchdowns. The previous season, he passed for 2,967 yards and 20 touchdowns with just six interceptions.
  • LB R.J. Oben: Another Duke transfer. Oben posted five sacks, six tackles-for-loss and was credited with six quarterback pressures last season.
  • S Rod Heard II: A two-year starter at Northwestern. Last season, Heard posted 85 tackles, broke up four passes and intercepted one.

Key departures

  • OL Joe Alt: All-American was the fifth player selected in the NFL Draft.
  • OL Blake Fisher: Two-year starter at right tackle was a second-round selection in the NFL Draft.
  • RB Audric Estimé: All-American ranked eighth in the nation in rushing with 1,341 yards. He scored 18 touchdowns.

2024 Notre Dame schedule

  • Aug. 31 at Texas A&M
  • Sept. 7 vs. Northern Illinois
  • Sept. 14 at Purdue
  • Sept. 21 vs. Miami (OH)
  • Sept. 28 vs. Louisville
  • Oct. 12 vs. Stanford
  • Oct. 19 at Georgia Tech
  • Oct. 26 vs. Navy (at East Rutherford, NJ)
  • Nov. 9 vs. Florida State
  • Nov. 16 vs. Virginia
  • Nov. 23 vs. Army (at New York)
  • Nov. 30 at USC
Discussion from...

Rebuilding offensive line primary concern for Notre Dame in 2024

4,560 Views | 6 Replies | Last: 20 days ago by USAF9705
Matsui
How long do you want to ignore this user?
NewEra2023
How long do you want to ignore this user?
AG
We seem to have similar strengths and weaknesses.

Only their CB and S are certified superstars.
Should be a physical, low-scoring game.
The Agly Duckling
How long do you want to ignore this user?
Their schedule is cupcake. They have 3 tough games.
USAF9705
How long do you want to ignore this user?
It's all relative when saying it's a concern.

When comparing it to the standard ND has at OL, then yes.
But ND's standard is a top 5 OL game 1 every year, with the expectation they will be a Joe Moore Finalist by end of year.

This line is more of a hope to be top 10 OL later in the year.
But they are still a top 12-15 OL day 1.

The problem is that the worst they will be, like every OL in the country, will be game 1.
So it could be a problem start of the season against A&M.

But the interior is stout. Spindler will probably play over Coogan.
I think Wagoner, a former 5 Star OT, will beat out Baker at RT.
Jagusah, another former 5 Star, probably is a future NFL Guard, but played OT really well in the bowl game as a true freshman.
The sleeper is Lambert, 5 Star true freshman, who could force his way in the lineup later in the year.

But they definitely have the talent, three 5 Stars, and four other top 100 OL to work with.

If Alt & Fisher came back, and they are the first ever true Junior tackles to both leave at the same time & get drafted the first 2 rounds, ND would be national title top 2-3 favorites. That stunk for them both left.

Now instead of being title contenders, they are CFP contenders who could win a game or two only.
NumberEinAg
How long do you want to ignore this user?
AG
Their schedule sucks! They wouldn't be 10-3 if they played in a real conference. Nice to be a Paper Tiger!!
"They who would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Benjamin Franklin
USAF9705
How long do you want to ignore this user?
This is just a lazy, old & tired take.

Go watch videos by national guys like Josh Pate, Phil Steele, Greg McElroy, etc… talking about this.

1) Historically, ND plays anyone, anywhere, anytime. They have a top 5 SOS all time.
In recent years, they have scheduled Home & Homes vs A&M, Bama, Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Texas, Oklahoma, USC (yearly), Clemson, FSU, Miami…

2) ND plays 5 ACC games each year. Over that time the ACC had the second most National Titles & wins. ND has gone 32-3 vs the ACC in those games. So they obviously could play in that conference, when it was the second best conference.

3) We don't even know who is going to be good this year? Each year we have no idea who is going to be good? There could end up being 5-6 ranked teams on that schedule this year, and it's considered a weak schedule for ND.


Refresh
Page 1 of 1
 
×
subscribe Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.