- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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Our series looking at the top position battles this spring shifts to a position that has been recruited like few others by the Irish in recent years.
Left side of the offensive line
There are few quantifiable ways to measure the impact Zack Martin and Chris Watt brought to Notre Dame during their times manning the left tackle and left guard spots, respectively. Martin won the team's best offensive lineman award four years running, breaking the school record for most starts (52) along the way. He will likely be a first-round draft pick. Watt was every bit as consistent, starting 37 games and playing in 50.
It will be strange, at the very least, to see Notre Dame trot out an offensive line with neither. And while it is probably asking two newcomers a bit much to come in and immediately replace the production of those two bedrocks, the Irish do have viable options with starting experience.
Steve Elmer got plenty of action last season as a true freshman, starting four games at right guard in place of Christian Lombard (back). So, too, did Conor Hanratty as a redshirt sophomore, as he started two games at left guard in place of Watt and two more at right guard. These two are likely the frontrunners to man the left side, considering Elmer also has plenty of experience at tackle as well.
One person to keep an eye on: Matt Hegarty, who filled in for Nick Martin at center, starting the season's final two games. Hegarty will probably be the guy again this spring as Martin recovers from an MCL tear, and perhaps could play his way into another starting spot when Martin returns in the fall.
As for the right side? Lombard is back for a fifth year and on his way to full health after starting at right guard in 2013 and right tackle in 2012. Ronnie Stanley is back for his redshirt sophomore year as well after starting all 13 games at right tackle last season, so there is much more certainty and stability on that side for the Irish moving ahead to 2014.
3dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information