Notre Dame center Zeke Correll looks to smooth the transition for Sam Hartman

Mike Berardino
ND Insider
Senior center Zeke Correll (52) walks into spring practice Saturday, March 25, 2023, at Notre Dame in South Bend.

SOUTH BEND — Sam Hartman’s comparative struggles this spring, at least in Notre Dame practice periods open to the media, can’t be viewed in a vacuum.

Take, for instance, the Wake Forest graduate transfer’s adjustment to a new center. After working with Michael Jurgens the past three seasons, when the 6-foot-4 senior played a team-high 2,541 snaps in 34 starts, Hartman is still getting used to Zeke Correll.

“I’ll ask Sam what he needs, and he’ll tell me,” Correll said Friday after spring practice No. 10. “Whatever I can do to make his job easier, I’m looking to do that for him.”

What does Hartman need? Essentially more repetition.

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“It’s been a bit of a change going from a no-huddle, clap-cadence offense (at Wake Forest) to a team that huddles a lot, does a lot under center,” said Correll, a 6-3, 300-pound senior. “(Hartman) just stepped into an entirely new offense, completely different scheme, more pro-style offense.”

If Hartman, the active FBS leader in career passing yards (12,967) and touchdowns (110), looks uncertain at times, it’s not because he’s forgotten how to process what he’s seeing. Correll, a former left guard who has made 15 of his 21 career starts at center, noted wryly that the Irish defense “likes to blitz every play” this spring.

Nine days into spring practice, Hartman noted the “array of defenses” Al Golden could dial up against new coordinator Gerad Parker’s streamlined offense.

“It’s pretty complex in the way that we’re designing it, but simple in the way that we need to read and work through it,” Hartman said of his new offense. “It gives you a fighting chance. If you have a general idea of the coverage, you know your read and your reactions, and you just try and roll through it.”

It probably isn’t feasible for Correll to speak with Jurgens, whose Demon Deacons will visit Notre Dame for Senior Day in November, so the quarterback-center bond will have to grow organically.

“Just being able to help him take any pressure off his back, especially with the protections and (identifications), will help make his life a lot easier,” Correll said. “It’s been awesome seeing him get better this spring. He’s taken huge steps and he just keeps improving.”

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All -America left tackle Joe Alt and backup Tosh Baker are officially tied for tallest active Notre Dame player. Both are listed at exactly 6-8 on the team website.

“I was up getting breakfast, and one of the strength coaches called me over and said, ‘I think you’ve grown; we’ve got to remeasure you,’ “ said Alt, who was listed last season at 6-7 5/8. “I got to 6-8, so I was happy.”

John Alt, the former Pro Bowl left tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs, told in December the family’s unofficial measurement back home in Minnesota was 6 feet, 8 and 3/8 inches. The elder Alt, who maxed out at 6-8 ½ at age 21, said he didn’t think his talented son was done sprouting.

“I think he’s got more in him,” John Alt said. “I really do.”

As for published projections that have Joe Alt going in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft should he opt to declare early, the rising junior takes those with a grain of salt.

“I really try not to listen to any of that,” Alt said. “I mean, yeah, people have those opinions and they’re going to say those things. But for me, it's just today and how am I going to get better today? How am I going take the biggest advantage of the day and what can I learn from my last practice or last meeting or what I watched?”

The draft can wait.

“That stuff is down the road,” he said. “I'm not worried about that stuff. It's today that matters.”

Less is more for Blake Fisher

Notre Dame offensive lineman Blake Fisher (54) during the Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Football game on Saturday, April 23, 2022, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Junior right tackle Blake Fisher, who was pushing 350 pounds when he early enrolled in January 2021, can feel the difference now that he’s worked his way down to 310-315 pounds.

“I feel more agile,” he said. “Moving around more. I’m more elusive and get off quicker and I just feel better. I’m not gassed. I can just go and go at 100 mph all the time. That’s what I need for my game to be dominant.”

A svelte Fisher is enjoying some of new line coach Joe Rudolph’s distinctive drills, including those that involve props.

“We’re running around some hoops and hitting some physio balls,” Fisher said. “It gives us a different feel for some things. Going up and hitting that physio ball gives you what it’s like to get knocked off because you get the impact coming back from the ball. You need to have your feet in the ground, make sure your pad level is good.”

Rudolph is Fisher’s third line coach in as many college seasons, following Jeff Quinn (2021) and Harry Hiestand, who re-retired in February but is still in town.

What was Hiestand’s challenge to Fisher and his linemates?

“Continue to improve, continue to be better, continue to be who I am,” Fisher said. “There wasn’t anything special. It wasn’t any lullabies or anything like that. He did what was best for him and he’s still here for us. All positive things. Nothing wrong with what he did. He did what was best for him and congratulations to him.”

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.