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Offseason Cheatsheet: Offensive line

Aug 24, 2010, 8:30 PM EDT

The series continues with your Du Lac approved crib-sheet for the upcoming season. For more, check out the quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers.

POSITION OVERVIEW:

After two nightmarish seasons, Notre Dame’s veteran offensive line played respectable football last season, forming a cohesive veteran group that protected Jimmy Clausen and helped establish a respectable running game, averaging for 4.9 yards per carry. Now Brian Kelly and offensive line coach Ed Warinner will have to retool and reload an offensive line short three starters from 2009, tackles Paul Duncan, Sam Young and center Eric Olsen. While Charlie Weis inherited a depth chart incredibly thin on developmental prospects, he’s left behind a nice collection of talent up front, and early returns are promising as they transition to a more lineman-friendly spread attack. While competition is fierce, sophomore Zack Martin has locked up the left tackle job while Taylor Dever is the front runner on the right side. Braxston Cave and Dan Wenger battle for the center position, while Chris Watt is knocking on the door both inside and out as he tries to crack the starting lineup.

ROSTER READING:

Short a program? Here’s every offensive lineman listed on the roster:

     No.    Name                     Yr.       Ht./Wt.       Hometown/High School
      72     Alex Bullard           So.      6-3/295      Franklin, TN (Brentwood Academy)
      52     Braxston Cave       Jr.       6-3/301      Granger, IN (Penn)
      73     Lane Clelland         Jr.       6-5/290      Owings Mills, MD (McDonogh School)
      75     Taylor Dever          Sr.       6-5/297      Nevada City, CA (Nevada Union)
      62     Bill Flavin               Sr.       6-3/260      Darien, IL (Benet Academy)
      57     Mike Golic, Jr.        Jr.       6-3/283      West Hartford, CT (Northwest Catholic)
      65     Mike Hernandez     Jr.      6-2/275      Pasadena, CA (Loyola)
      74     Christian Lombard  Fr.      6-5/290      Inverness, IL (Fremd)
      71     Dennis Mahoney    Jr.       6-7/289      Baltimore, MD (Boys Latin High School)
      70     Zack Martin            So.      6-4/290      Indianapolis, IN (Bishop Chatard)
      64     Tate Nichols           Fr.       6-8/303      Walton, KY (Ryle)
      76     Andrew Nuss         Sr.       6-5/297      Ashburn, VA (Stone Bridge)
      78     Trevor Robinson    Jr.        6-5/295      Elkhorn, NE (Elkhorn)
      77     Matt Romine          Sr.        6-5/292      Tulsa, OK (Union)
      59     Chris Stewart         Sr.        6-5/351      Spring, TX (Klein)
      66     Chris Watt              So.       6-3/310      Glen Ellyn, IL (Glenbard West)
      51     Dan Wenger           Sr.       6-4/298       Coral Springs, FL (St. Thomas Aquinas)

KELLY ON OFFENSIVE LINE:

On Stewart: “Chris is the consummate student-athlete. He has excelled on the field and in the classroom and while I don’t envy his workload this fall, I have complete confidence that Chris will balance law school and line blocking this year.”

On Cave and Wenger: “Braxston Cave is a very physical player, I have great confidence that he
can move any nose. He can do the things physically in the run game. He
needs to continue to polish in the pass game…  Wenger is a pretty good pass protection guy. He needs to get the same kind of push Braxston Cave can get.”

On Martin: “Zack has been our most consistent. Your left side right now is Stewart and Zack, obviously, they’re doing a great job.”

On Watt: He lacked a
little bit of experience in understanding the offense, and again, it was
just because he hasn’t played very much. He’s just a really good football player that has gotten better each and
every day. We’ve been cross-training him at that center position, too,
but it’s pretty clear he’s put himself in position to compete at that
left guard. So we don’t want to hold him back there. He’s made great
progress. He’s strong and physical and he moves his feet very, very
well.”

Tim Hinton on Robinson: “His ability to finish and play with a lot of tenacity. Up front, you can have all the fundamentals and all that stuff you want, but if you don’t have a strong will and toughness, you’re not very good, because that’s just not a game for soft guys.”

Kelly on the offensive line depth: “I believe we have on the offensive line 10 guys that can play championship football.”

CRYSTAL BALL:

Replacing three starters along the offensive line isn’t a good thing, especially if you look back at the last time Notre Dame had wholesale changes along the offensive front. But the system that Brian Kelly brought in — and bringing in offensive line coach Ed Warinner to teach it — has me feeling rather bullish about the line. If I had to guess, the starting five of Martin, Stewart, Cave, Robinson and Dever will help the Irish run the ball more effectively, and with quick drops and precision passing, the transition process for both tackles and the starting center will be much smoother this time around.

POSITION STRENGTH:

B- As much as I feel good about what’s going on up front, it’s hard to give this group any higher grade, especially when Martin will be playing in his first college football game against Purdue and right tackle (and potentially center) will be breaking in a new starter as well. Add to that the curve of learning an entirely new system, and this is as good as you could expect on a report card.