This article is the first of our 2012 Player Projections series. During the summer months Blue & Gold Illustrated will be evaluating each player on Notre Dame’s projected two-deep depth chart — reviewing their careers to this point and discussing expectations for the year to come.
Christian Lombard — RT
Height: 6-foot-5 Weight: 309 lbs
Experience: 13 appearances, 0 starts
Notre Dame junior Christian Lombard has put in his two years in the lineman grooming process and is ready to make an impact on the field. Lombard, a high school All-American and Illinois’ Gatorade Player of the Year in 2009, patiently waited for his chance to play in what can sometimes be the painfully long development of a collegiate offensive lineman. He’ll step into a starting role for the first time in 2012.
“I think I’ve gained experience being on the road and seeing guys in starting roles,” Lombard said during spring practice. “I think it’s my turn now. It’s my turn to prove to everyone that I can play. I have a lot of potential to do some good things here. …Offensive line it takes a while. It’s not like a wide receiver. There’s a lot of technique to it. I feel comfortable where I’m at right now and getting better every day.”
He appeared in all 13 games for the Irish last season in his first year of on-the-field action. Most of Lombard’s contributions came on special teams with the field goal unit and as a personal protector off the line of scrimmage for the punt team. That the coaching staff trusted Lombard five yards behind the line of scrimmage on punts says plenty about his consistency and his ability to move fast enough to pick up speedy rush defenders in open space.
Lombard played sparingly behind fifth-year senior Taylor Dever at right tackle last year as well. He said the most important thing for him moving forward is to remain coachable and continue to learn on the job. Play calls and pre-snap reads should be slowing down by now after two years of studying Brian Kelly’s offense.
Lombard secured one of the two vacancies on the offensive line by the end of spring ball and is expected to be a regular starter this season. Exactly which job he won was not quite as clear.
The 6-foot-5, 309-pound junior has the feet to play outside on the line and the strength to move inside and play the guard position. During the spring he played both positions regularly as the coaching staff tried to figure out the best way to get its five best linemen on the field at once.
“This is what you want in the spring. You want to see what kind of players can play differnet positions,” new line coach Harry Hiestand said. “We know that this is a physical tough sport and the chances of the same guys being in there every game is limited that that could happen. So, this is the time to see all the things guys are capable of doing.”
It seems that the best fit for Lombard, at least to start the season, will be at right tackle, where he should be more comfortable after two years at that spot in practice. His ability to blow defenders back from an interior line position will come in handy if the Irish stick with their plan to frequently use double and triple tight end sets.
“Honestly I just want to get on the field and play wherever that may be,” he said.
What’s a Good Season?
Experience is often the most important stat along the offensive line, and 2012 should be an opportunity to build a lot of it for Lombard. If the junior can stay healthy, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be on the field to start every game in the fall.
Whether he stays at tackle or slips inside because of injury or otherwise, Lombard has enough help from returning starters to confidently take the next step in his grooming process. The Irish will still lean left in the run game this year behind their trio of talented returning starters, which should give Lombard the time and space to get accustomed to game speed.
“It’s fast. It moves fast and you have to be sharp on everything you do. If you’re not, the guy is going to go right past you,” he said.
Assignment should become second nature to Lombard this season and help him adjust to the speed. If he can keep defenders in front of him, he’ll have a strong season while building a foundation to become a veteran leader on the line in the coming years.