Notebook: Liam Eichenberg shrugs off athleticism questions ahead of Notre Dame's Pro Day

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Liam Eichenberg has heard the criticism of his athleticism.

If the consensus All-American doesn’t continue Notre Dame’s streak of starting left tackles drafted in the first round, it may be because Eichenberg doesn’t have the freakish athletic traits that can elevate NFL prospects.

On Wednesday, Eichenberg will have a chance to document his athleticism during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, which will be televised live at 11 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Network, but he’d rather his doubters turn on his game film. Individual pro days have replaced the traditional NFL Scouting Combine workouts due to COVID-19 precautions.

“There’s definitely concern by people when I go up against a speed guy, but I honestly think it’s easier to go against a speed guy,” Eichenberg said Monday. “They’re more decisive with their moves and their decision-making.

“If you turn on my tape, I blocked everyone I played against pretty well. People who say that really don’t understand football very well and definitely did not watch my tape.”

Eichenberg has plenty of tape to offer after starting in the last 38 games for the Irish at left tackle. He rattled off a list of NFL Draft picks he was tasked with blocking throughout his career — Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell, Michigan’s Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich and Florida State’s Brian Burns — that didn’t even include the handful of defensive ends Eichenberg played against in 2020 who will likely be drafted.

Eichenberg’s résumé at Notre Dame runs so deep that he could afford to skip playing in the Senior Bowl in January. Eichenberg explained Monday that he decided to not play in the senior showcase due to concerns about exposing himself to COVID-19, which he said he hasn’t had yet, and to limit the wear and tear on his body.

“My body was a little beat up,” Eichenberg said. “So for me it was focusing on improving my numbers for Pro Day and also focusing on football from a technique standpoint and not making my body worse.

“It was a great opportunity to be invited. Sadly the decision was for me not to go, but I appreciate everybody at the Senior Bowl, (executive director) Jim Nagy and everyone, for extending that opportunity to me.”

If the latest mock draft by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. is any indication, Eichenberg might still find himself selected in the first round of the NFL Draft on April 29 in his hometown, Cleveland. Kiper projected the Kansas City Chiefs would draft him with pick No. 31.

That would extend Notre Dame’s streak of first-round left tackles to four. The previous three full-time starters since 2010 have been selected in the first round: Zack Martin (2014 draft), Ronnie Stanley (2016) and Mike McGlinchey (2018).

But most mock drafts have the 6-foot-6, 302-pound Eichenberg lasting beyond the first round with a handful of offensive tackles drafted ahead of him. Regardless of when he’s selected, Eichenberg’s counting on an NFL team valuing his consistency.

“I’m a guy you can plug in and play right now” Eichenberg said. “I’m not a guy that needs a lot of development. I’ve been coached well. I use my technique and my fundamentals very well.

“A lot of people knock me for athleticism. On the offensive line, I’m not running a route or anything. So I guess it’s a little bit different.”

Pro Day envy

Former Notre Dame wide receiver Ben Skowronek has been looking forward to an opportunity to show his speed at the NFL Combine or a Pro Day for years, he said. But Skowronek won’t be able to do so because of a foot injury that worsened at the Senior Bowl.

“I feel like my speed’s been doubted,” Skowronek said. “I was just so excited to get on the field and run that 40-yard dash and show everybody and shut everybody up really.”

Former Irish receivers Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool each were able to impress with 40-yard dash times of 4.42 seconds at the NFL Combine each of the previous two years, respectively. Instead of doing the same, Skowronek will likely have to rely on data from Notre Dame’s strength and conditioning staff, which he believes will show that he was among the fastest players on the team.

The 6-3, 211-pound Skowronek didn’t share the specifics of the injury to his right foot, but said the initial injury happened before the Senior Bowl practices. He tried to make it through the week, but the pain worsened and limited his abilities.

“I’m obviously frustrated with that,” Skowronek said. “My rehab’s going well. I’m ahead of schedule. I’m feeling really good. I’m a couple weeks away from being back to 100 percent.”

Banks’ decision

Consensus All-American Aaron Banks could have returned to Notre Dame for a fifth season. The Irish pitched the two-plus-year starter at guard the opportunity to play left tackle. The concept interested him, but he opted to leave alongside fellow offensive linemen Robert Hainsey, Tommy Kraemer and Eichenberg.

“I talked to a lot of people, I asked a lot of questions to a lot of former players on what they would do in my position, and the consensus came back that I should leave,” Banks said. “Three of the guys I played with the last three years were leaving, so I felt like it was my time to depart with them.”

The 6-5, 338-pound Banks will likely end up as a mid-round selection. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler slated Banks as the No. 9 offensive guard and No. 99 overall in his latest rankings of the 2021 draft class.

Former Notre Dame left tackle Liam Eichenberg (74) wants those who doubt his athleticism to turn on his film to evaluate his play.

What: A pre-draft showcase. The 2021 version is a de facto NFL Scouting Combine for 14 Notre Dame NFL Draft hopefuls. Eleven of the 14 were invited to the actual combine, which was modified due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Where: Irish Athletics Center on the campus of Notre Dame.

When: Wednesday at 11 a.m. EDT

TV/Stream: NBCSN and und.com/fightingirishtv from 11 a.m. to noon.

ND participants: OG Aaron Banks, QB Ian Book, S Shaun Crawford, OT Liam Eichenberg, OT Robert Hainsey, DE Daelin Hayes, OG Tommy Kraemer, CB Nick McCloud, WR Javon McKinley, DE Ade Ogundeji, LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, WR Ben Skowronek, TE Tommy Tremble and TE Brock Wright.