Notre Dame offensive line aims to be nation's best
SOUTH BEND — Walk into the Notre Dame offensive line’s meeting room this summer, and you’ll find a list of three goals written on a dry erase board for all to see.
1. Help Notre Dame win.
2. Be the best that you can be.
3. Be the best offensive line in the country.
For many units, that last goal might be construed more as a fantasy than an achievable landmark, a target set in the distance hopelessly out of reach. For others, lofty expectations would prove too much, as a significant corps of talent is buried by agonizing pressure.
Not at Notre Dame, though, and not in 2015.
“I saw something on the internet the other day. ‘Pressure is for the people that don’t know what the heck they’re doing.’” junior right tackle Mike McGlinchey said with a smirk. “Everybody on our offensive line knows what we’re doing. We’re fighting and fighting and fighting to not let everybody down next to us.
“I think that’s the biggest part of our season this year. We see what we’re capable of being on the offensive line. We don’t want to be the guy that lets the group down.”
Thus far in training camp, that sense of accountability is universal, driving a promising offensive line to exceed sizable expectations. McGlinchey doesn’t want to let Nick Martin down, just as Martin doesn’t want to let Ronnie Stanley down, and on and on into infinity.
And of course, none of them want to disappoint offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, whose voice — and unflinching standards — radiate within his players.
“Everybody knows he’s one of the most demanding coaches out there, and I wouldn’t want it any other way,” McGlinchey said. “He’s the best in the business at what he does. I put all my trust in him, and everybody in our room does as well. We know he’s taking us down the right path. Every now and then it’s tough to play for a guy who’s demanding as much as that, but I love it.
“To want something as bad as he does, it rubs off on us. It’s making us into one hell of an offensive line.”
That’s apparent in the corps’ leaders, Stanley and Martin, who own a combined 50 career starts as well as promising NFL résumés.
But what will allow this group to achieve goal No. 3, McGlinchey said, is the next wave of players carrying the baton.
“That’s kind of unavoidable, with the star power that Ronnie and Nick have,” McGlinchey said, when asked about the omnipresent spotlight shining on Stanley and Martin. “They both have really, really bright futures in the game of football.
“But that’s our goal. We want to be the best offensive line in the country. Each individual is trying to be the best at their position, but by doing that we’re trying to be the best offensive line.”
So far, so good. Through more than a week of training camp, the offensive line has continued to gel, sharpening the blade of a group that will be tasked with protecting quarterback Malik Zaire and blowing open holes for Zaire and running backs Tarean Folston and C.J. Prosise in the season opener against Texas on Sept. 5.
Stanley and Martin are the group’s elder statesmen, McGlinchey and junior right guard Steve Elmer are growing in both confidence and experience, and left guards Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars continue to compete and improve individually in the process.
Any line is only as strong as its weakest link, as long year's sometimes underachieving group found out. Thus far, the 2015 line has revealed few weaknesses.
“Ronnie has been outstanding, not only as a player but as a leader for us,” Kelly said. “Nick Martin’s leadership has been outstanding. I think Steve Elmer continues to get better.
“Mike (McGlinchey) has to be more consistent. Mike gets a little emotional at times. We’ve got to calm him down. He wants to do so well all the time, but his technique is getting better and better.
"And, of course, you’ve got (left guards) Quenton (Nelson) and Alex (Bars), and they’re both competing and they’re both going to play at the guard position. We feel pretty good about those guys.”
Come Sept. 5, it’ll be time for the Notre Dame offensive line to prove that ‘it knows what it is doing,’ as McGlinchey says, and to begin the quest towards achieving goals 1 through 3.
Greatness, though, can’t be achieved without first believing that great things are possible. That belief has been fostered in the meeting room, on the dry erase board and on the field.
“We’re always doing the extra time,” McGlinchey said. “It’s who we are and it’s what coach Hiestand has instilled in his culture here at Notre Dame. It’s really something special that we have.”