SOUTH BEND — The good news about the Notre Dame football offensive line is that four of five starters from the Cotton Bowl loss to end the 2018 season are back in 2019.
The bad news: the one starter not back is Sam Mustipher, who graduated and is now trying to make it in the NFL. This leaves a major hole on an offensive line that only allowed 25 sacks in 13 games last year.
Enter Jarrett Patterson.
The 6-4, 300-pound redshirt freshman has assumed the role of starting center since spring practices and has cemented his place there in fall camp.
“I see a lot of progress in Jarrett. When he came here, watching his high school play out there in California, I saw a guy that was well-coached. He’s very technically sound in his technique, his fundamentals. He has great eye discipline, good footwork, good hands,” Irish offensive line coach Jeff Quinn said. “I just needed somebody that really understood what our offense is all about; and the system that he’s running right now, he fits in there quite well. He saw a lot of action in the spring and now we expect him to have that kind of play when we start facing teams like Louisville.”
Patterson originally wasn’t recruited as a center. His big frame made him a better fit to play tackle. Being such a standout forced Quinn’s hand, though, and he moved Patterson to center.
“It’s one of the things I said to these guys is that if your best five players are all tackles, then two are going to play guard and one is going to have to learn how to play center. And I said, ‘Jarrett, that’s you,’” Quinn said. “He embraced it. The one thing about Jarrett — he’s got such a positive attitude about the game, himself and wanting to contribute.”
Patterson has never started a college game, but appeared in three his freshman year. He joins a line with right tackle Robert Hainsey, right guard Tommy Kraemer, left guard Aaron Banks and left tackle Liam Eichenberg, all of whom made multiple starts for Notre Dame in 2018.
Having an experienced line back is comforting for Quinn.
“They’ve been through the grind. They’ve been through the weekly preparation, the game planning, the practices, and then going out on that field and competing against some of the best competition in the country,” Quinn said. “You feel good that those guys understand what it takes each and every day to compete at the highest level. You lean very heavily on that experience.”
One of those linemen, Hainsey, was voted a team captain two weeks ago. He continues the tradition of the offensive line having at least one captain for the Irish. Last year, Mustipher and Alex Bars were voted captains. In 2017, Quentin Nelson and Mike McGlinchey assumed the role of captain.
“It’s an absolute honor to be thought of that highly and highly regarded by my teammates. I intend to lead them to the best of my ability, like I always have and always will,” Hainsey said. “It’s a pleasure to be in a room with guys like we have who care so much and work so hard and just make me want to work harder and be the best person I can be every day.”
Notre Dame is hoping to ride its offensive line to the end zone. Head coach Brian Kelly mentioned the physicality of the line will help set the tone for the Irish offense in 2017.
“Any time you’re returning four of five starters on the offensive line, your first sense is there has to be some continuity that’s going to give you some effectiveness in the run game,” Kelly said. “We think we can be a physical presence because of four returning offensive linemen and three punishing backs (Tony Jones, Jafar Armstrong and Jahmir Smith).”