The past few months, most of the discussion about Notre Dame football has revolved around who will end up as the Fighting Irish's starting quarterback. While the verdict is still out on who will be throwing passes, whoever it is will be playing with a pretty clean jersey in 2012.
Notre Dame's offensive line will be among the best in the country this season.
Three of the players on the Irish line are returning veteran starters, and possibly a fourth if Mike Golic Jr., who started at center in Braxston Cave's absence last season, takes over for Trevor Robinson at right guard.
After claiming the starting position last season, Cave—who injured his foot against Wake Forest and missed the final four games—returns as the starting center. While Golic Jr., performed admirably, there was a noticeable difference in the two's talent level, and Cave's presence will secure the interior of the line.
Zack Martin and Chris Watt are back to hold down the left side of the line.
Martin's superior pass-blocking skills and power to open up holes in the running game from the left tackle spot make him the most valuable offensive lineman on the team. With two years of eligibility left, Martin has already made a strong case to be drafted in 2013 if he decides to leave Notre Dame.
Watt came into his own last season as a first-year starter at left guard. Working in tandem with Martin, even the best defenses will have trouble penetrating the left side of the line.
Before summer workouts begin, it looks like Christian Lombard will be the starter at right tackle. Lombard had the talent to start at either right tackle or right guard last season, but with two veteran senior starters ahead of him, Lombard had to wait his turn. After a fantastic spring, Lombard's time has come.
However, Lombard could move to right guard, and Tate Nichols, a 320-pound, 6'8" giant would take his place at right tackle if he did.
If Lombard stays at tackle (the most likely scenario), then Golic Jr., and Nick Martin will battle it out for the starting right guard spot.
Golic Jr., has more power and knowledge of the offense, considering he started four games last season (albeit at center).
Martin is the more athletic of the two and would be an asset downfield in the run game, but either player should fit in well there.
It will be hard to improve upon the success that the offensive line had last season. The Irish were 22nd in the FBS in tackles for loss allowed and tied for 26th with three other teams for sacks allowed.
But one reason the team should remain successful along the offensive line is the addition of Harry Hiestand, the new offensive line coach who is replacing Ed Warinner, who joined Urban Meyer at Ohio State).
Hiestand has over 20 years of experience coaching the offensive line and over 30 coaching football, and he will bring a knowledge of the game that very few coaches have.
And his experience is already paying dividends.
The whole offensive line unit performed extremely well in the Blue-Gold game, even the backups, although backup center Matt Hegarty had some trouble with snaps (which means he won't see the field until the coaches are confident in his ability).
The offensive line didn't give up a sack in the spring game, and it was going up against a stout defensive line.
A great offensive line can make an average quarterback look rather impressive, and while every Irish fan is hoping the quarterback most able to perform will take the field in September, any one of the four should be able to put up solid numbers behind the guys projected to play up front.
Expect big numbers from the Notre Dame offense in 2012 running and passing the ball, and a dominant offensive line will be a huge reason why.