A year, or merely an opportunity, away?

Irish O-Line a key unit to watch this spring

A preview of three redshirt-freshmen in position to battle for playing time through spring practice and into next fall, albeit at crowded positions.

On the cusp: Hunter Bivin

The versatile 6'6" 291-pound second-year competitor spent 2013 with the varsity offensive line in practice and was technically a member of the two-deep official depth chart (left guard, left tackle) throughout the season. (Though like classmate Mike McGlinchey, Bivin was to be withheld from action to preserve a season of eligibility.)

Bivin begins fall camp as either the No. 4 guard (Conor Hanratty, Christian Lombard, and Steven Elmer are doubtless ahead in the pecking order) or No. 4 tackle (Ronnie Stanley, Elmer, Mike McGlinchey). He'll end it no worse than a No. 2 and could push for starter's status with a great spring followed by a better fall camp.

A logical initial projection is that Bivin will work as the first guard off the bench next fall, but none of his trio of chief guard competitors is secured in a starting role entering spring 2014.

Second Spring: Mike Heuerman

An early enrollee in January 2013, Heuerman embarks on his second spring practice session under the Dome, but that decided advantage over classmate and fellow tight end Durham Smythe (previewed here) was lost last fall when Heuerman was shelved in late September due to sports hernia.

But like Smythe, Heuerman enters spring ball with a clear shot at the No. 2 tight end role behind senior Ben Koyack. Neither Heuerman or Smythe were members of the team's 2013 travel roster (indicating scout team status) though Smythe accompanied the Irish to the Shamrock Series matchup with Arizona State in Arlington as a native Texan.

Heuerman was lauded for his "work ethic and nasty streak" by position coach Scott Booker, and his "burst" by head coach Brian Kelly. He'll need elements of each to stand out among a trio of tight ends and eight wide receiver prospects this spring.

Freshman Season, Take Two: John Montelus

Heuerman has a spring, summer camp, and nearly a month of fall practice under his belt. Bivin was a varsity linemen for the bulk of 2013. Other freshmen lettered (11 of them) or had a chance to make an early impression on the staff and their teammates.

Montelus, a potential mauler inside, had none of the above, shelved for the duration of his time in South Bend by an off-season 2013 shoulder surgery prior to his arrival on campus. Listed at 340 pounds entering August camp, Montelus didn't participate in practices or dress -- for home games -- last season.

The former reality will change for Montelus this fall, deemed ready, and waiting, to roll by his head coach.

"John Montelus is doing a lot of work but we've kept him out of live contact," said Kelly in December. "No need to really get him, I want him 100 percent for the spring."

Listed at 6'4" 305 on National Signing Day 2014, Montelus has likely lost a portion of the pounds put on during his time away from the practice field. (If not, he'll have to.)

With four seasons of eligibility remaining, a backup guard role exiting spring ball and through fall camp would be a good sign for the Massachusetts Mauler who doubtless has ground to gain entering his first spring session.

Next in the "spring status" series: A quartet of redshirt-freshmen attempting to get in the mix after a season on the scout team last fall.

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