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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. Sgt. Moon - Feb 23, 2010 at 10:42 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.

  2. mmfink - Feb 23, 2010 at 10:54 PM

    Like.

  3. Larry - Feb 24, 2010 at 9:30 AM

    Folks, just quit acknowledging you know who. Ignore him . He just likes to jerk your chain.

  4. Martyks - Feb 28, 2010 at 12:01 AM

    robertg is off his meds again… wow
    Talk about someone from LaLa Land! Probably just loves to make insane comments and get everyone’s reaction. It’s actually more fun, robert, if you find a dog behind a wrought iron fence and you drag a tin cup along it, or get up to the window of a car in a parking lot where a frantic dog is waiting for his owner to return and bark like a banchee. It’s way more entertaining and you won’t be viewed as completely nuts by people all over the world.

  5. TJM - Feb 28, 2010 at 11:59 AM

    Please shut down robertg. And why must enumerate his rambling and irrelevant comments. He does revisit the same worn out themes time and time again. Enough already.

  6. JRC - Feb 28, 2010 at 2:45 PM

    I agree. Time for him to go!!!!

  7. DocHR - Feb 28, 2010 at 8:31 PM

    C’mon, Keith. Robertg is just taking up space, and quite honestly, he threatened anyone who posts on this blog. See these comments from Feb. 11th.
    robertg
    1. we do not engage in physical violence, unless the opposition intitiates physical violence.
    2. we do engage in economic violence in the civil courts and, as we have stated many times in our posts, we will have no difficulty at all obtaining, by civil court subpoenas, the real names and identities of every person who has posted anything at notre dame central.
    3. every single person who has posted civilly actionable statements directed at me or at us will definitely be seeing one of our process servers at their homes or places of business.
    4. these are choices that certain people made of the own free wills after being repeatedly warned in our posts.
    5. for anyone who just disgrees with us and has so stated in any posts, those individuals do not have anything to be concerned about.
    6. however, those who have intentionally posted material which is civilly actionable will defenitely be seeing our process servers and our civil lawsuits and the very unpleasant economic consequences that go along with all civil litigations.
    GO IRISH!!!
    31 – Thu Feb 11,2010 3:35 PM ET
    Do you have the lawyers at MSNBC looking into these threats? The comments section of this blog is becoming a joke.

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