For all of the tactical warfare and complex strategy that has evolved at the high levels of football, sometimes the most effective approach is still to line up and run over the guy across from you. That has been the focus in fall camp for Irish junior Christian Lombard
Lombard played in all 13 games last season, but will be making his first career start against Navy.
Lombard spent his last two seasons in meetings and the film room learning every intricacy of Notre Dame’s offense. The playing time he saw as a sophomore came mostly on special teams. Now, as he prepares to take over the starting right tackle job this season, Lombard is trying to push most of that knowledge to the back of his mind.
“My biggest things is just letting it loose,” he said. “Since I’ve been here I’ve been a little tentative just trying to not mess up. That’s my biggest thing. I care a lot about this team and messing up is kind of my big fear. So just letting it go and just trusting myself is what I’ve really tried to work on this camp.”
All of Notre Dame’s offensive line has happily embraced a more streamlined system under new position coach Harry Hiestand this year. Lombard said he really started to piece together his understanding of the offense this spring after a month of meetings with Hiestand and digested the playbook this summer.
The new coach’s philosophy is first and foremost execute. There’s less emphasis on hitting the right body as opposed to just making sure you hit a body and drive it in the right direction. The schemes are slightly simplified as well from those that the Irish used under former line coach Ed Warriner.
“A little bit more zone versus gap and pull,” head coach Brian Kelly said about the linemen techniques this season. “We were a lot more gap and pull last year. We’re pretty athletic up front, so we feel like we can climb to the second level and go track down linebackers. From a schematic standpoint, probably a little more emphasis on inside-outside zone.”
Running a successful zone blocking scheme requires good chemistry between neighboring linemen. Lombard said he and guard Mike Golic, Jr., also a newcomer at that spot, are starting to develop the bond they need to play next to one another. Golic started four games at center last season, but had to make as many adjustments as Lombard, who has bounced between guard and tackle during this first two season at Notre Dame. After a full week in pads, both members of the new duo said they could feel when the other was struggling on a play or when he was dominating.
“It’s just talking and talking,” Lombard said. “Since [the team’s first practice] we’ve been more aware of it.”
Lombard, who has fluctuated between 310 and 315 pounds during camp, has had plenty of good opportunities to get live experience during the extended 11-on-11 drills the team has run this year. He said he usually lines up across from sophomore defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Tuitt, a speedy 305-pounder himself, challenges Lombard on a daily basis and has been impressed with the competition.
“I love to go against him every day because I know its not going to be a step back,” Tuitt said last week. “That’s throughout our whole offensive line. We have a really great offensive line coach, and I love going against them because there’s no step back.”
That’s at least one-half of Lombard’s goal accomplished. No stepping back and no standing still while he thinks about his job. This year, for the junior, is about moving forward.