Versatile Lombard gives Notre Dame football options

BOB WIENEKE
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — His position, as listed on the Notre Dame spring roster, identifies Christian Lombard as a "G/T," meaning he could play of-fensive guard or tackle. The fifth-year senior has started games at both spots. He's done well at both spots

So where does Lombard see himself?

"I've never heard that question before," he quipped. "Again, wherever I end up."

The fact that Lombard is again part of the conversation is a big step toward revamping a line that loses stalwarts Zack Martin and Chris Watt to graduation.

Why?

A nagging back injury that began bothering Lombard after last spring practice be-came too much, ending his 2013 season after seven games.

Surgery repaired what Lombard described as a herniation, and Lombard is again back at spring practice, two of which are now in the books.

The injury was something Lombard initially decided he could play through, and through the early part of the season he was able to do just that. As the year wore on, though, it began to cause more problems.

"Just after the USC game, I couldn't go anymore," Lombard said. "That was it."

Lombard jumped right into recovery. It was a few months before he lifted weights, but he was doing movement activities right af-ter the procedure.

"It was a pretty active recovery," he said.

Now that he's back, Lombard returns to a line that has changed since he left. Gone are Martin and Watt, two of his good friends, both of whom are chasing NFL dreams.

"It's definitely different just from the standpoint of having two good friends not next to you, off the field and on the field," Lombard said. "It's different but you've got to move on."

Lombard could be on the move himself, then again he may not. A key backup in 2011, he moved into the starting lineup at right tackle on the undefeated regular-season team in 2012.

His versatility allowed for the move to guard last season, and that versatility again allows for head coach Brian Kelly to tinker with potential lineups.

Lombard, along with Ronnie Stanley, Mike McGlinchey and Steve Elmer, are the four top candidates to replace Martin at left tackle.

Positions, however, aren't the hangup right now. What Lombard sees as important now is that the players fighting for them use the 15 spring practices to hone skills.

"Positions really isn't the main thing right now," Lom-bard said. "We're just worrying about fundamentals and playing football."

Wherever he plays, Lombard himself appears to be moving in the direction of a leadership role. Not a vocal guy by nature, he figures to follow the lead of Martin, whose steady personality and play fit the leadership-by-example mode.

"He was an example guy. He definitely talked too, but he was the same guy in and out every single day. Consistency was his big deal," Lombard said. "Guys would try to emulate what he would do, coming in with that professional attitude, so he was just like he's going to be at the next level. He was professional all the way around."

With Lombard the lone fifth-year senior on the line, he too will be looked to as a leader of the group.

"I try to lead by example and try to be that same guy every day," Lombard said. "I think that's the important thing."

Pressed to pick his prefer-ence — tackle or guard — Lombard eventually settled on guard, mainly because of the recent familiarity he's gained.

"In my mind I've been playing guard now over the last year," he said, "so I'd say I'm a guard, that's what I've been doing."

 Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees (11) gets protection from offensive guard Christian Lombard (74) to Michigan defensive end Keith Heitzman (92) in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game, in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/TONY DING)