Notre Dame OL Lombard not taking the grind for granted

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Christian Lombard missed the little things.

The long days of sweat, hard work and communication with his fellow offensive linemen were taken away from him twice.

His junior season was cut short by six games last October with a back injury. Surgery and rehab brought him back onto the field for spring practice in March. By March 20, Lombard underwent surgery for a dislocated right wrist.

The 6-foot-5, 311-pound graduate student couldn’t stay healthy. But with the start of preseason camp earlier this month, Lombard was able to join his teammates for the parts of football he missed the most.

"Just being out here sweating, running with the guys and having fun,” Lombard said of what he appreciated about taking part in the first practice of the season.

The weight of a long-anticipated return had been lifted from Lombard’s shoulders. More importantly, the pain of chronic back issues dissolved and helped bring the joy of football back to Lombard.

“It wasn't fun, that's for sure,” Lombard said of the back pain he played through at the start of his senior season. “I definitely thought about it a lot. It was painful, but it's in the past.”

Lombard struggles to pinpoint only one or two things the injury affected. Instead he said the pain affected everything he did on the football field.

"It's been tough, but I had a great summer,” Lombard said. “I really dedicated myself after the wrist injury to football and getting back. I definitely accomplished that goal by the first day. I came back and felt great. I feel like I've got nothing but improvement to make.”

Lombard rejoins an offensive line that may be more talented from top to bottom than any group since he arrived at Notre Dame in 2010. At the start of camp, Lombard retained the starting right guard role he held a year ago. He’ll have to hold off the competition of younger players as offensive line coach Harry Hiestand evaluates his best group of five.

Lombard can see how high the talent level has risen since his freshman year.

"Definitely tenfold,” Lombard said. “We have guys that – God forbid we have an injury to one of our veterans – can come in. They're all solid. There's no guy that's, ‘Oh, he was a miss.’ They're all solid guys. They have a bright future ahead of them."

Hiestand has developed an offensive line full of versatility that Lombard knows well. Lombard started for the Irish at right tackle during the run to the national championship game in the 2012 season. Now he’s mastered the guard position. Younger linemen like Steve Elmer, who replaced Lombard at right guard after his injury last season and started camp at right tackle, has displayed a similar versatility.

"He's really explosive,” Lombard said of his partner on the right side of the line. “He comes off the ball really hard. He's an all-around football player. Besides center, he can play any position on the line. All-around, explosive, solid football player."

The line’s talent is only matched by its leadership. Lombard and center Nick Martin could end up as captains this season, while the same could be said of Elmer and left tackle Ronnie Stanley in the future.

“We all try and lead the line not as an individual, but we all try and call each other on different things,” Lombard said. “I guess you can say Nick is the focal point. We all try to do it together and not just have one guy do it.”

The unit that takes the field before practice before any other position group plans to establish the tone for the offense. They will be asked to clear the way for a talented running back trio and keep the quarterback on his feet.

"It's going to start with the offensive line,” Lombard said. “We're going to dictate how the games go. We're going to dictate the offense and the defense, setting the tone. The sky's the limit for us offensive line-wise. We have a ton of weapons at the skill positions.” ¦ 574-235-6214 ¦ Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame's Christian Lombard during the first training camp practice on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, at Culver Academies in Culver, Ind. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)