Walking into Notre Dame football’s first spring practice in early March, most eyes were trained on quarterback Everett Golson.
But one of the most noteworthy aspects of that first practice was the man standing at right tackle with the first-team offense: sophomore Mike McGlinchey.
Fast-forward nearly three months later, and many of Notre Dame’s offensive positions and roles are set.
Yes, there’s still a starting quarterback to be named, but otherwise, there’s clarity.
Senior Ben Koyack will be the top tight end, and we know who the contributors will be at running back and wide receiver, though we may not know in what order and how often they’ll all see action.
Four offensive linemen—Ronnie Stanley, Steve Elmer, Nick Martin and Christian Lombard—figure to be on track for starting jobs. The last spot, however, comes down to left guard or right tackle.
Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock and head coach Brian Kelly each explained during the spring that the final choice on the line likely will be either McGlinchey at right tackle and Steve Elmer at left guard, or Elmer at right tackle, McGlinchey as the “swing” lineman and either Matt Hegarty, Conor Hanratty or an incoming freshman at left guard.
But ever since that very first practice on a cold morning in South Bend, Indiana, McGlinchey has clung to his post as the first-team right tackle (at least in practice sessions open to the media). And while he’s raw and inexperienced, McGlinchey’s high upside makes him a compelling choice for the starting spot.
The 6’7.5”, 300-pound sophomore redshirted in 2013, but his natural ability shined through this spring.
“When he grows up, when the light comes on and he gets it, he’s gonna be an incredible football player from the standpoint that I think the physical gifts that he possesses as far as his athletic ability; obviously his size is hard to miss,” Denbrock said in late March.
Yes, his size is striking. McGlinchey is listed as the tallest player on Notre Dame’s roster.
“We worry that [Irish men’s basketball head coach] Mike Brey is going to take him from us,” Kelly joked on national signing day in 2013.
While his size is certainly one of the first things that stood out, McGlinchey impressed Kelly in a variety of ways.
“He's athletic enough that he has played tight end,” Kelly said on signing day. “We were really impressed with the way he played basketball. He was a ferocious competitor, ran well and is somebody that is going to continue to get stronger physically.
“But he comes from a great high school, William Penn Charter School [in Philadelphia], just a perfect fit for us at Notre Dame and, again, on the offensive line gives us that long-reach guy that can play the tackle position for us.”
And following his redshirt season, McGlinchey earned valuable reps at one of those tackle positions this spring. McGlinchey proved himself with his mental ability too, Denbrock said.
“He’s got some football intelligence that can be cultivated and can grow rather quickly, and that puts us in a position, obviously, to get him on the field right away,” Denbrock said in late March. “And we’ve kind of thrown him to the wolves here in the spring and let him kind of fight through it. And he’s done a really nice job so far.”
Still, following the Blue-Gold game on April 12, Kelly reiterated that the line is not set. The head coach said the right tackle and left guard position battles will “sort [themselves] out in preseason camp.”
By no means is McGlinchey able to boast the experience of either Hegarty or Hanratty, who started two and four games, respectively, in 2013 because of injuries. If Elmer started at right tackle and either of those two seniors manned left guard, all five members of Notre Dame’s line would enter the season with prior starting experience.
But in order to begin to tap his vast potential, the Irish could continue throwing McGlinchey to the wolves. Combine on-the-job learning with McGlinchey’s raw physical skills, and Notre Dame could lay the foundation for its young lineman and reap the benefits over the next three or four seasons.
*All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.