JOE RAYMOND/Associated Press
Saying goodbye to Zack Martin and Chris Watt won't be easy. The leadership that the veteran duo displayed last season had Notre Dame's offensive line playing the best it has in over a decade.
The left tackle and left guard jobs are open for competition. While there seem to be logical candidates to fill Watt's spot, the focus this spring will be on who steps in for Martin after four seasons starting at left tackle.
Brian Kelly talked about that on Friday, focusing on four candidates.
"Well, I think you start with those guys that are long enough to play out there," Kelly said. "We'd like to be a little bit longer. (Steve) Elmer, (Ronnie) Stanley, (Mike) McGlinchey, (Christian) Lombard. I think you start with those four guys."
Elmer spent the better part of his freshman season filling in at guard. Stanley spent the year starting at right tackle. McGlinchey is the team's most physically impressive candidate, while Lombard kicked inside to guard last year after spending 2012 at right tackle before a back injury ended his season early.
While Kelly doesn't buy into the prototype blind side protector, after never having to worry about Martin through four ironman seasons, Kelly was candid about testing people throughout spring practice.
"So long story short, most experienced, most athletic, you'd say it's Ronnie Stanley, immediately," Kelly said. "But most comfortable, and who's been on the left side? You go with the guys who have already been over there: Elmer. We'll probably go through the spring and look at both of those before we make that final decision."
The interior of the offensive line seems to be coming along nicely. Nick Martin is healing quickly from a knee injury and will go through all drills at center, though won't be cleared for contact. That will allow Matt Hegarty to build on his late-season experience, another incredible development for a player whose career nearly ended after suffering a stroke.
"Here's a kid who was almost ruled out of playing football," Kelly said of Hegarty. "Last year at this time, we had serious question marks about what his level would be here. Now we see him at workouts and he's leading and communicating."
In addition to McGlinchey, Hunter Bivin, Colin McGovern and John Montelus are all taking their redshirts off, giving the Irish their deepest offensive line of the Kelly era.
Christian Lombard, Grad Student
Nick Martin, Senior*
Matt Hegarty, Senior*
Conor Hanratty, Senior*
Ronnie Stanley, Junior*
Mark Harrell, Junior*
Steve Elmer, Sophomore
Hunter Bivin, Sophomore*
Mike McGlinchey, Sophomore*
Colin McGovern, Sophomore*
John Montelus, Sophomore*