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Stepping up… The offensive line

Feb 15, 2010, 2:36 PM EST

We’re starting a feature here that should get everybody ready for Spring Practice. “Stepping Up” (not to be confused with the Channing Tatum/Jenna Dewan tour-de-force dance movie) looks at the holes on the depth chart and who is likely to fill them. I hope everybody enjoys…

If one position’s inconsistency defined the Charlie Weis era, it was the offensive line. While the defense was the unit that ultimately led to Weis’ ouster after five seasons, the offensive line’s volatility and inconsistency — sometimes expected, sometimes mind-boggling — mirrored the struggles of Charlie Weis as a coach and the Irish during his tenure.

While Weis’ 3-9 2007 team is a reflection on the recruiting failures of Tyrone Willingham, the staggering inefficiency of the offensive line also showed how difficult Weis’ pro-style scheme was to pick up for a group of lineman thrown into action after last playing significant minutes at the high school level. 2008′s up-and-down season along the offensive line resulted in the departure of offensive line coach John Latina, and Frank Verducci was brought in to get better results out of a finally veteran group.

While last season’s offensive line saw vast improvements, and Verducci did a impressive job, there was rarely a time where the offensive line dominated an opponent. Whether it was inopportune penalties, inconsistent run-blocking, or ill-timed sacks, it never felt like the offensive line became the veteran force that the Irish needed.

Entering the Brian Kelly era, let’s take a look at who the offensive line loses, who’s returning, and the key lineman that need to step up.

KEY LOSSES:

With the departure of Paul Duncan, Eric Olsen, and Sam Young, the Irish arguably lose the three most important starters along the offensive line. While Duncan was hardly considered an elite left tackle, he did a service able job covering Jimmy Clausen’s blindside. As an offensive captain, Olsen supplied leadership and spearheaded the line, successfully shifting to center to open up playing time for sophomore Trevor Robinson. And while Sam Young may never have become the Outland candidate that many thought the Irish signed when he committed to the Irish from St. Thomas Aquinas, he ended up starting every game of his collegiate career, a pretty miraculous feat in this era of college football.

RETURNING STARTERS:

Chris Stewart returns at guard for the Irish as a fifth year player, where he’s expect to thrive in his final year of eligibility. Stewart’s redshirt should pay dividends, and I expect him to be a force on the interior of the Irish line. Trevor Robinson also returns to the starting lineup, though he might not be lining up on the interior of the offensive line if the Irish can’t find proper tackles to fill the open voids. Robinson battled some injuries last season, but played impressive football for a sophomore and hopefully will take the leap from good to great during his third season. Dan Wenger also comes back for his fifth year, likely returning to center and anchoring the inside of the offensive line. Wenger was the odd-man-out after Olsen shifted to center, but was a valuable reserve that picked up the slack when Robinson was hobbled.

STEPPING UP:

The battle for the two tackle positions is the key to next season’s offensive front. Replacing three starters puts the Irish in a none too envious position of having to replace the majority of minutes along the front line. Our friends over at Blue-Gray Sky point to an ominous statistic, comparing the 43 percent of returning playing time to the 42 percent that returned to the dreadful 2007 offensive line. 

Nobody expects the offensive to nose-dive like it did in 2007, and Brian Kelly’s spread attack doesn’t put nearly the same pressure on lineman that Weis’ offense did. But for the Irish to be an elite offense again, they’ll need some of the following guys to step up and win a job.

Matt Romine, Left Tackle: Romine was a highly-touted recruit, and long expected to challenge for a starting tackle position. Yet injuries, bad luck, and the depth chart have combined to get in the way of Romine playing a significant part of the offense. I expect the coaching change to benefit Romine greatly, as a fresh start and a new scheme will finally put Romine in a position to succeed.

Taylor Dever, Right Tackle: Dever found himself stuck behind Sam Young, which relegated him to only special teams duty the last two seasons. Yet all reports say Dever has the size and athleticism to play on the edge of the offensive front, where he’ll likely be given the first opportunity to win a job.

Dark Horses: Don’t count out guys like Andrew Nuss, who don’t necessarily have an open job to compete for, but will be given every chance to win a starting position. I also expect to hear from athletic tackle Lane Clelland, who profiles nicely into this offense. It’ll be interesting to see how freshman Chris Watt acquits himself this spring, fresh off a redshirt year where he reportedly impressed the former coaching staff. If Dan Wenger doesn’t get it done at center, both Braxton Cave and Mike Golic Jr. will look to challenge at the position.  

  1. TLNDMA - Feb 15, 2010 at 5:26 PM

    It will be interesting to see what effect the new strength and conditioning coach will have on this group. Will a different approach create a little more athleticism, with a few of these guys? Could six months at Longo Beach turn Chris Stewart into a force at guard.
    A lot of these guys were highly regarded coming out of high school. We should not have to fear a repeat of 2007.

  2. robertg - Feb 19, 2010 at 6:30 AM

    1. aside from wishing the very best to every notre dame student athlete who will also play football for notre dame during the one season only kelly 2010 hiatus, we will have very few comments on the 2010 season.
    2. the corrupt officiating, rules enforcement, rankings, and bcs systems will not be fixed until charlie and most of his staff return for the 2011 season.
    3. therefore, the paper win/loss records for the 2010 season will be just as meaningless as the paper win/loss records for the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
    4. fortunately, charlie and his staff recruited very well for notre dame, including the nation’s no 1 recruiting class for the 2008 recruiting cycle which coincided with ther 2007 season during which, due to past recruiting voids also caused by purcell and jenkins, charlie and his staff had no choice but to field a team composed of student athletes with a great deal of promise, but little or no experience at the college level.
    5. given those systemic problems with which charlie and his staff and notre dame’s student athletes were stuck by purcell and jenkins for the 2007 season, notte dame’s 2007 season was extremely successful as a rebuilding year.
    6. as always, charlie and his staff were perfectly honest with recruits and their families and high school coaches all over the us about what looked very ugly on the field during the 2007 season.
    7. since charlie and his staff had the full backing and support of former notre dame ad kevin white during the 2007 season(something which was completely missing from purcell, swarbrick, and jenkins during the 2009 and 2010 recruiting cycles and that lack of support sure did wreak havoc with notre dame’s 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes, as purcell, swarbrick, and jenkins knew it would) against the vicious attacks in the media and at those so called notre dame fan sites, charlie and his staff still managed to bring to notre dame the nation’s no 1 recruiting class, who will be juniors next season and very well prepared by charlie and his staff, along with the other student athletes already at notre dame will do their very best in the 2010 season.
    GO IRISH!!!

  3. Keith Arnold - Feb 19, 2010 at 12:40 PM

    RobertG: Save it. I think I’ve given you more leeway than just about every website on the internet, and your comments above have nothing to do with the offensive line, the football team, or any of the guys on this team or previous teams.
    CW and staff aren’t coming back. Enough Purcell, Swarbrick, Jenkins, Kevin White rants. Everything in your post from point 1 to point 7 is completely irrelevant to the column. If you want to comment, great, I actually welcome your perspective sometimes, but this stuff is just regurgitation of things you’ve written hundreds of times.

  4. Art Vandelay - Feb 19, 2010 at 12:44 PM

    AMEN.

  5. robertg - Feb 20, 2010 at 3:37 AM

    keith,
    1. we do not agree with your post.
    2. there are always new people discovering and reading posts at nd central and those people simply do not know what was posted before.
    3. as we told you, we will have very few comments on the 2010 season.
    4. our posts are definitely about the futures of notre dame football and of the university of notre dame, no matter what you may post the contrary, while the many fraudulent and vicious persononal attacks against me and us certainly have nothing to do with notre dame football.
    5. we know what your contractual obligations with your employers are with respect to notre dame central.
    6. for now, we are just presuming that you had a bad day.
    7. notre dame central is a publicly viewable discussion website and will remain that way. that decision was made by people at the highest levels of nbc sports and msnbc long before you were ever hired.
    HAVE A MOST EXCELLENT DAY AND GO IRISH!!

  6. robertg - Feb 20, 2010 at 5:05 AM

    keith,
    1. we really like what you and your staff have done, so far, at notre dame central, after we made certain the the notre dame bashing idiots who ran notre dame central prior to this season were not given the opporunity to come back and eric hansen and his south bend tribune colleages were not able any more to control the content at notre dame3 central.
    2. when the position opened up, you and your staff got that position.
    3. however, when you state,ex cathedra, with zero factual support, that charlie and his staff will never be back at notre dame and attempt to impose that your opinion on us and others with some threats, then we begin to wonder who is pushing you in this direction, although we already know that certain people have vested finacial interests in pushing you in this direction.
    4. right now, notre dame fans have an option to paying for and obtaining false information about notre dame football from the so called notre dame websites or they can come to notre dame central and get conflicting points of view which, in our case, are supported by hard evidence and internet links.
    5. of course, if you to turn notre dame central into a false propaganda operation like the so called notre dame fan sites are, and have been, you can try doing so, but that will not work congratually with your employers and, of course, doing so, makes notre dame central irrelevant.
    6. we never get hassled by yahoo sports and many other internet websites. despite the fact that not everyone at yahoo sports and at other websites agrees with us.
    7. as we have already told you, if notre dame central should become just any propaganda site, we can make arrangements with msnbc and the companies which own msnbc to run our own website at msnbc.
    8. so far, despite the immense pressures brought to bear upon you and your staff, you haver conducted yourselves admirably and refused to cave in to any pressure.
    9. you really should keep up what you have been doing, as your contractual obligations require no matter what assurances you may be given by persons claiming to have decision making powers at nbc sports, but who simply do not.
    GO IRISH!!

  7. joe from Dublin - Feb 20, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    I think we are in better shape than we may think here. Great point on the difficulties of running a Weis pro style offensive line. It will be a lot easier under Kelly for these highly ranked guys to adjust. I am sure Trojan fan RobertG will disagree.

  8. jg - Feb 20, 2010 at 1:14 PM

    robertg-
    what are you talking about?

  9. irish mike in tennessee - Feb 20, 2010 at 9:20 PM

    I think i’m tired of RG’s tireless rants too.

  10. JNJ - Feb 21, 2010 at 2:23 PM

    robert g –time to get back on your meds.
    keith–good article–all those OL guys were highly rated recruits.
    like everyone else wondered “what happened”.
    still have nightmares recalling that BC guy toss a 300lb Olsen into the backfield.

  11. The Mitz - Feb 21, 2010 at 5:54 PM

    Bobby, your a sick, frustrated, bitter old man. You ruined your career, and now you take your frustrations out on everything and everyone who disagrees with you.
    Your probably sitting in a shoddy studio apartment collecting SSD and spending your time on incessant remunerations of the same old tired themes.
    You have serious issues and it’s eating you up just as sure as you claim “the cancers” are destroying ND. Get some serious help and please leave the fans, this blog and Keith alone.
    Mitzi

  12. ourlady$ - Feb 21, 2010 at 7:42 PM

    great points Keith, I am going to miss seeing Sam Young out there also,he brought leadership and intensity and gave 100% on a consistant basis for our Irish.
    One of the key games last year showed our weakness however and an improvement is definetely needed. The four man rush delivered by USC proved to be highly successful in that game, and that is not acceptable. Our standard for next season must be a front seven that our not only the strongest but the quickest. I have no doubt Coach Kelly and crew are up to the task. It’s the attention to detail that will bring success!

  13. ourlady$ - Feb 21, 2010 at 7:44 PM

    great points Keith, I am going to miss seeing Sam Young out there also,he brought leadership and intensity and gave 100% on a consistant basis for our Irish.
    One of the key games last year showed our weakness however and an improvement is definetely needed. The four man rush delivered by USC proved to be highly successful in that game, and that is not acceptable. Our standard for next season must be a front seven that our not only the strongest but the quickest. I have no doubt Coach Kelly and crew are up to the task. It’s the attention to detail that will bring success!

  14. Mark Reisz - Feb 22, 2010 at 11:56 AM

    Charlie Weis and staff are coming back next year??? Robert G, what planet are you from?

  15. leutrell - Feb 22, 2010 at 2:06 PM

    Look for Chris Stewart to have a banner year. He is a hell of a guard especially when he pulls and leads on the edge.

  16. Ryan - Feb 22, 2010 at 2:12 PM

    I have never posted here before so I am obviously missing something and maybe I a falling for a lame joke here but you actually think Charlie Weis AND staff are coming back next season? …and you live on the planet Earth? …and who is we? …there are more of you out there that think this?
    In Your Style…
    1. You have no factual information to back this up
    2. Ugh, I don’t even know how to respond to something so out of this world… this makes no sense. Financially, they just bought out Weis’ huge contract and then signed Kelly to a very lucrative, long-term contract which would also have to be bought out in order to then re-sign Weis. I mean, seriously? You have to be joking, right?

  17. Jake - Feb 22, 2010 at 2:26 PM

    No your not missing anything. It’s just Robertg’s constant ramblings and rants that go on, it seems forever. He has no basis in fact and uses bullet points to highlight the same old thing.
    He’s not operating with both oars in the water so pay him no mind.

  18. Local Domer - Feb 22, 2010 at 7:45 PM

    If Sam Young and the other graduating O-lineman develop into quality NFL players, good for them, AND it will be an indictment against Charlie and his staff for not being able to develop them into quality collegiate players. The only two reasons that Sam Young played in every game were: 1) he never had a serious injury – good conditioning on his part, and; 2) he got demoted from left tackle to the right side because he couldn’t protect the quarterback!
    I don’t know how Charlie could ever expect to have his QB lead a team to a national championship when he couldn’t develop an O-line that could protect the QB and open holes for the RBs. The only positions that Charlie ever cared about were the QB and the receivers. When it became clear that Brady Quinn was not going to win the Heisman trophy his senior year – which was about 6 games into the season, did Charlie ever try to give Evan Sharpley more playing time? No. When Charlie said at the beginning of the 2009 season that we needed better balance between the run & the pass did he stick with his plan? No. Throughout last season he was only interested in making Clausen’s numbers look good – hoping a Heisman trophy just might save his job.
    If our O-line stinks this fall (and in 2011) we can blame it on Charlie and company because they either wouldn’t recruit or they couldn’t/wouldn’t develop lineman, or both.
    Good luck to BK and his staff and to the Fightin’ Irish in 2010 and beyond!

  19. robertg - Feb 23, 2010 at 2:20 AM

    1. we are still right here, watching and printing out posts, and working on our projects.
    2. nothing has changed with us.
    GO IRISH!!!

  20. Irish Ice - Feb 23, 2010 at 2:36 AM

    Looking forward to the April spring game, yet what should I be looking for? The improved or at least a strong O-line? A decision on a QB? A different defence? -Always Notre Dame

  21. grandpashyena - Feb 23, 2010 at 12:07 PM

    That is so comforting.

  22. grandpashyena - Feb 23, 2010 at 12:09 PM

    That’s so comforting,bob

  23. RollingAmbition - Feb 23, 2010 at 12:54 PM

    I feel badly for the young men who played for ND over the last few years who did not get the player development they needed for success. If the great talent that was recruited had been developed appropriately, ND would have won many more games.

  24. mmfink - Feb 23, 2010 at 1:34 PM

    Ryan – RG and his freedom fighting consortium print out every response. Cross him and you might find yourself in a very public civil jury trial relieved of all your monetary possessions.
    Good article Kieth. RG has his moments and entertainment value, but when it’s this same stuff all over again and not remotely related to the subject of the article, enough is enough.

  25. Sgt. Moon - Feb 23, 2010 at 10:41 PM

    Robert, would you like to make a little wager? If Charlie comes back for the 2011 season, WE will stop criticizing your comments on this blog. If Charlie doesn’t come back, you will STOP posting on this site.
    How about it?? You up for this?
    Keith, excellent article as usual. I am still concerned about the defense. Not enough big plays and they disappeared late in the games.

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