Fighting Irish Positional Analysis: Interior O-line

Mike Golic Jr. returns for 5th year
In the sixth of a 13-part series, looking at each position prior to signing day on Feb. 1, here is a quick rundown of the interior offensive linemen - the guards and centers: those departed, those still on hand, those recruited, what the future holds among current junior recruits, and what the future holds at the position.

(Note: The number listed in parenthesis is the years of eligibility remaining and the listing of a player's class is based upon the upcoming 2012 season.)

ON THE ROSTER
OFFENSIVE GUARDS/CENTERS DEPARTED: Trevor Robinson (OG), Andrew Nuss (OG)
OFFENSIVE GUARDS/CENTERS RETURNING: 5th-Braxston Cave (C, 1), 5th-Mike Golic, Jr. (C-OG, 1), Sr.-Chris Watt (OG, 2), Jr.-Bruce Heggie (OG, 3), Soph.-Nick Martin (OG, 4), Soph.-Matt Hegarty (C, 4), Soph.-Conor Hanratty (OG, 4), Soph.-Brad Carrico (OG, 4), Fr.-Mark Harrell (C, 4)

POSSIBLE POSITION SWITCH: Chris Watt could move from left to right guard if they want their second strongest interior offensive lineman (behind Cave) on the right (strong) side. Sophomore-to-be Brad Carrico projects at guard, but played offensive tackle in the spring. Sophomore-to-be Nick Martin appears destined for guard - where he should compete for the starting job - but was listed as his brother Zack's backup at left tackle for the bowl game. Matt Hegarty appears to be the center of the future, along with incoming freshman Mark Harrell, although the former was listed as an offensive tackle prospect when he arrived last summer. Harrell was listed as a guard prospect during the recruiting process.

2012 TARGETS


COMMITTED OG/C RECRUITS: Mark Harrell

OG/C OFFERS (2011-12): Jordan Simmons (Encino, Calif.; USC commit), Curtis Riser (DeSoto, Texas; Texas commit), Jessamen Dunker (Boynton Beach, Fla.; Florida commit), John Michael McGee (Texarkana, Texas; Oklahoma commit), Dan Voltz (Barrington, Ill.; Wisconsin commit), Vadal Alexander (Buford, Ga.; LSU commit), Michael Flint (Oxford, Ala.)

OGS/CS ON THE ND BOARD: Joshua Garnett (Puyallup, Wash.): A guard who also could end up at tackle, Garnett appears to have narrowed his choices down to Stanford and Michigan, followed by Notre Dame.

2013 TARGETS:


JUNIOR OFFENSIVE GUARDS/CENTERS VERBALLY COMMITTED: None
JUNIOR OFFENSIVE GUARDS/CENTERS OFFERED (2012-13): Timothy Gardner (Indianapolis, Ind.)
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ANALYSIS


It's feast or famine at the interior spots, at least in terms of experience/playing time. Braxston Cave has three years, 35 games and 22 career starts under his belt at center, although he'll still be recovering from foot surgery when the Irish hit the practice field in the spring. Chris Watt played 13 games in 2010 and then started all 13 at left guard in 2011. Mike Golic, Jr., looks as if he'll be granted a fifth-year of eligibility and now has four starts and extensive playing time in a fifth at center.

After that, it's all youth and inexperience, although there is no shortage of prime prospects. There's been talk around the program that Nick Martin projects as the successor in the starting lineup to Trevor Robinson. Conor Hanratty made a strong impression in 2011, first by his improved conditioning upon his arrival last summer, and then in his performance during pre-season camp. Brad Carrico, kind of the forgotten man in last year's class after originally projecting along the defensive line, needs to find a spot, settle in and compete. Junior-to-be Bruce Heggie, who was a late addition to the signing class of 2010, also must find his niche on the interior as the competition heats up, although he was listed as Watt's back-up against Florida State.

Matt Hegarty is a jack-of-all-trades and probably could play any of the positions along the offensive line after originally being listed as a tackle. He worked his way to the interior of the offensive line and looks to be the center of the future. Incoming freshman Mark Harrell is expected to join Hegarty at center. That is subject to change because of the versatility that both possess, although there is a definite need at center with Cave and Golic, Jr., both in their final years of eligibility.

It's possible that Golic, Jr.'s experience gained at center in 2011 could be put to use at guard. But the younger Martin and Hanratty both have four years of eligibility remaining and provide long-term upside. The younger Martin also could play one of the offensive tackle positions if another guard proves to be one of the five best prospects along the offensive line, although there are several quality tackle candidates.

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