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Brian Kelly became the first coach to ever leave Notre Dame for a different college job when he decided to head to the SEC and join LSU. He brings with him an impressive track record of recruiting and developing NFL-caliber offensive linemen, turning South Bend into a pipeline to the next level.
I should admit now that I am a big proponent of building a strong offensive line. If you gave me control of an NFL roster or asked me to build an expansion team, I would focus on building up a rock solid offensive line before doing anything else. I definitely subscribe to the idea of building in the trenches. I would even argue that having an elite offensive line is more important to team success than an elite quarterback. That quarterback cannot do much if he does not have time to throw. Anyway, I digress.
Yesterday, I talked about the impact of a coach moving programs and the long-term implications when a coach is known for developing a specific position group. Lincoln Riley’s move to USC bodes well for future Trojan quarterbacks finding success at the next level. He has a strong track record for developing quarterbacks and preparing them for the pros. It is fair to wonder if Kelly could do the same thing with the Tigers.
It is important to separate school history from future success. We saw this year how harmful that can be when D.J. Uiagalelei attempted to replace Trevor Lawrence at Clemson. In short, just because Ohio State has a long history of producing successful NFL defensive backs, that does not mean that every Buckeye corner will be a Pro Bowler. It is important to individually evaluate each player independent of where they went to school, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t look at history to guide where we start looking.
With all that in mind, Kelly developed a ton of high-end NFL starters across the offensive line in his time at Notre Dame. Quenton Nelson and Zack Martin are arguably the two best guards in the league. Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey, when healthy, are both quality starting tackles. Time will tell when it comes to the three offensive linemen drafted from Notre Dame in 2021. There could be another lineman or two selected in 2022, namely Jarrett Patterson.
This begs the question: Can Kelly replicate this success at LSU?
Fans will obviously hope so. The Tigers have produced some talented linemen, though not at the same level as the Irish. Lloyd Cushenberry and Damien Lewis are both young starters in the league. Ethan Pocic actually starts next to Lewis in Seattle. The most successful LSU alum on the offensive line in recent years has to be Trai Turner, who went to five straight Pro Bowls from 2015 to 2019. Some success, but far from Nelson and Martin caliber.
Kelly will look to bring that success recruiting and developing linemen for the pros while not jeopardizing LSU’s already existing moniker of DBU. I know there are challenges by Ohio State, Alabama, Florida and strangely Texas to that title, but I firmly believe the true defensive back U is located in Baton Rouge. Tre’Davious White, Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson are among the best in the league. Kristian Fulton might not be far behind. Derek Stingley Jr. will likely be the latest top-10 defensive back in 2022. Alabama has a legitimate case with Patrick Surtain II, Trevon Diggs and Marlon Humphrey, but I still give LSU the edge.
Kelly has deep recruiting ties in the midwest from his time spent at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame. As it turns out, there are a lot of talented offensive linemen that hail from that region. Ryan Ramcyzk, Terron Armstead, Tristan Wirfs, Taylor Moton, Jack Conklin, Taylor Decker, Joe Thuney, Brandon Scherff, Corey Linsley and Zack Martin hail from either Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana or Michigan.
On top of that, Louisiana actually had the most active NFL players per capita at the start of the 2021 season. There will be talent for Kelly to work with. He needs to find a way to meld his midwest background with the recruiting hotbed in the Bayou. That is obviously easier said than done, but I think Kelly should be in position to accomplish it. He will need to fill out his staff with coaches who know the territory. While talent is important, having people who can help Kelly create inroads in a state that Kelly himself admitted he had never even been to prior to accepting the job will be vital in upping the program’s offensive linemen production while sustaining their success with developing elite defensive backs.
Much like Lincoln Riley’s move to USC, it will take several years to see the full impact on draft prospects. That being said, I will definitely be tracking LSU linemen a little more closely in the coming years, especially if Notre Dame offensive line coach Jeff Quinn does in fact follow Kelly to Louisiana.