Wednesday, August 24, 2005

That Was Weird...

To my personal "There's Something You Don't See Every Day..." file, I add this: walking through the lounge in DeBartolo Hall today, I came across Ryan Harris. Asleep. Sprawled out over six or seven chairs. Visions of pancake blocks dancing in his head, no doubt.

This provides a nice segue to the key #10 in our countdown...

#10 - Getting Offensive on the O-Line

The Irish starting five of Harris (LT), Bob Morton (LG), John Sullivan (C), Dan Stevenson (RG), and Mark LeVoir (RT) enter their second season as a collective unit and, for everyone except Sullivan, their third year of consistent playing time.

But even with so much experience and continuity on the offensive line, the Irish running game has remained stagnant. Three years ago, a vaunted 2002 unit which produced FOUR NFL Draft picks produced an average of only 139 yards per game on the ground - far below the standard for a program which built its reputation on powerful, grind-it-out football.

With Charlie Weis' revamped offense now in the fold, the pressure will be on the big five up front more than ever. Not only because they need Darius Walker to follow-up his excellent freshman season at running back, but because Weis' passing game will never get off the ground without them. The continuing evolution of Brady Quinn depends on the performance of his offensive line. Weis has talked often about how the five offensive lineman are the most important pieces of the offense, since they are the only ones (other than Quinn) who will be on the field for every play.

And not to pile on or anything, but looming even larger than the quality of blocks and running lanes will be their health. With the departure of John Kadous (who apparently is back at the University but no longer playing football...don't ask me to explain) and the transfer of Chauncey Incarnato, the Irish are perilously thin along the line. Their best options for rotating players in will be seniors Dan Santucci & Brian Mattes, who have a combined 88 minutes of career playing time (in contrast, the least experienced of the starting five is Sullivan with 367 minutes). After that it's true freshman Paul Duncan and Michael Turkovich, as well as scarcely used seniors James Bonelli and Scott Raridon.

Weis says he's not concerned because several of his players, most notably Morton and Harris, have already played multiple line positions in college. "If you don't have flexibility within your own players, then it's a legitimate problem," he told the media last week. "But as long as you have a guard that can play right guard or left guard; a center that can play guard; a tackle that can play left or right; you have more numbers than it appears on the hoof." Even so, one major injury on the offensive line has the potential to send a shockwave through the entire Irish offense.

Ultimately, though, all five have a keen understanding of the task ahead, particularly fifth-year players Stevenson & LeVoir. Weis stated from the moment camp opened he was tired of seeing the o-line wait for the game to come to them. He wants a hard-hitting, defensive end mentality to attack the opposition from the offensive side. I suppose what he's looking for could best be described as..."nasty" (yeah, there, I said it). And if the offensive line reflects Weis' stated goal of a hard-working, intelligent, nasty football team, everybody at Notre Dame will like what they see.



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