Returning Regulars: 5th-year seniors Zack Martin (LT) and Chris Watt (LG), senior Christian Lombard (RT), junior center Nick Martin (formerly a G/T)
Rookies -- Relative and Otherwise: Senior Bruce Heggie (G), junior Conor Hanratty (G), junior Matt Hegarty (center) sophomore Ronnie Stanley (T), redshirt-freshman Mark Harrell (G/C), early enrollee freshman Steven Elmer (T), freshmen Mike McGlinchey (T), Colin McGovern (G), John Montelus (G) and Hunter Bivin (center)
Position Coach -- Harry Hiestand: Enters his second season with the program, last year guiding an offensive line that paved the way for 23 rushing scores, a 4.9 yards-per-carry average, and nine games in excess of 150 rushing yards while allowing just 9 sacks of Irish quarterbacks over 11 games (the line struggled vs. Purdue and Stanford, yielding a combined 9 vs. the pair).
Said Hiestand of the line's progress through spring session No. 2 (2013) compared to his inaugural practice session (spring 2012): "(In 2013), it's not as big of a drastic adjustment. The adjustments we're making fundamentally are way less than we were doing at this time last year. They have a better understanding of it, and a better availability to do it, so we should be able to tie those pieces together a little bit better then at this point last year."
Established Stars: Zack Martin and Chris Watt. Martin has graced a handful of All-America lists and is the program's best offensive lineman since center Jeff Faine graduated following the 2002 campaign. Watt is among the two best Irish guards of the last decade (Dan Stevenson, 2005, immediately come to mind) and remains undervalued nationally. He enters 2013 among the team's 5-6 best players overall.
Camp Buzz: Two presumed new starters Nick Martin (center) and Conor Hanratty (right guard). The junior (redshirt-sophomore) pair enters Year 3 in the Irish program poised to take over starting roles from a pair of departed fifth-year seniors (Braxston Cave and Mike Golic, Jr., respectively). Neither Cave nor Golic was a standout last fall though Cave had his moments and earned third-team All-America status from CBS Sports. Hanratty has practiced with the varsity at guard since his true freshman season, but competitive game playing time will be his first. Martin was the team's No. 6 offensive lineman last season, standing that afforded him status as the first guard and first tackle off the bench. His initial snap this season will be the first of his college career.
The Pressure is on… Christian Lombard. A first-year starter last year as a junior (redshirt-sophomore), Lombard fared well in most games but did not hold up vs. top tier defensive fronts Stanford and Alabama. The next step for the former No. 2 ranked offensive guard prospect is to handle his business representative of a senior, multi-season starter -- if Lombard isn't one of Notre Dame's 12-15 best players throughout the season, the offense will likely suffer.
The Battle is Between… Hanratty and Stanley, at least indirectly. Stanley is viewed by many as a sure-fire 2014 starter at tackle. Hanratty is viewed by most as the new right guard, largely because his competition is comprised of freshmen and redshirt-freshmen. If Stanley can prove he can handle the load at right tackle, could Lombard, a former guard prospect, move inside? Would the Irish and Hiestand consider such a move, considering continuity is key along an offensive front? (this isn't' a video game, you don't plug in higher rated players and assume it will work).
If Stanley is deemed the team's fifth-best offensive lineman, will he find a way to start or at least play regularly in 2013?
Wither? Matt Hegarty. The junior (redshirt-sophomore) is one of three remaining from the four OL recruiting haul of 2011, none of which has started a collegiate contest. Hegarty lost four months of weight training last year to a heart condition that required surgery; his presence on the spring practice field a blessing and surprise to many. He's able to compete at full strength now but Nick Martin exited spring with the obvious upper hand as the team's new pivot.
Neither is a natural center (Hegarty a four-star recruit at tackle; Martin a three-star tackle/guard), and both pale in comparison to Cave in terms of raw strength at the point, though as Hiestand noted regarding Cave and the need for power in the middle: "If Braxston didn't have technique, he was on the ground and his guy was in the backfield. (Power) doesn't matter as much as (technique) and constantly trying to get better at it."
With three seasons of eligibility remaining, Hegarty's 2013 must be about meaningful playing time -- he has the talent to help the offensive front even if its not as a converted center, his trade since midway through 2011.
BCS Dreams Because... The left side ranks among the nation's best…Martin excels in space, at the point, as a leader, you name it…Watt is a true mauler in the run game and improved greatly in pass protection…Lombard enters his second season and should be far more equipped to handle talented foes than he was last fall…Hiestand's second season should bring constancy and continuity to a depth chart that returns seven varsity members from 2012...
Cause for Pause: Two new starters and precious little experience among the rookie-heavy backup brigade…Can Lombard play up to his recruitment billing? If Zack Martin is felled by injury, Notre Dame's offense will suffer greatly.
Take it to the bank: Notre Dame's offensive line will be better in 2015-16 and beyond when compared to the current crew, but no one among those rosters will have a better collegiate career than the remarkably undervalued Zack Martin -- each season one of Notre Dame's (at worst) six best football players since he first graced the field in 2010.