Wednesday, August 29, 2007

2007 Position Preview - The Trenches

Now that we've gotten through all of the glamour positions in football - QB, RB, WR, TE - we get down to the nitty gritty. The positions of players that don't get the glory and fame, just the quiet satisfaction that they are the foundation upon which the success of the rest of the team rests.

Most of the press this offseason, and the resultant negativity about Notre Dame's success, hinges on the losses of players from these glory positions - Brady, Darius, the Shark, and Rhema. And yes, we have some inexperience at those positions. But, we have talent at those positions.

Where we've upgraded in the offseason is at the other positions - those positions where statistics and accolades don't tell the whole story. We'll finish out the offense with the O-line here before movng on to the revamped defense late tonight or early tomorrow.

Starting Five

LT - Paul Duncan, Junior - 6'7" 308 lbs.
Duncan backed up Sam Young last year, logging 85 minutes of playing time, and played in 5 games the season before, logging another 24 minutes of playing time.
Although he hadn't previously started, he has really shown up this offense, especially in the spring, where he gave the Irish coaches enough confidence in him to put him at left tackle and leave phenom Sam Young over at right tackle where he played all last year.
I believe this move belies Weis' plan to run the ball more this year, by putting more experience and talent on the strong side of the line, rather than protecting his young quarterback's blind side.

LG - Mike Turkovich, Junior - 6'6" 301 lbs.
Turkovich battled through a neck injury last year, logging only 23 minutes of playing time as a reserve, the same kind of minutes he got as a true freshman. Probably the weakest link of the starting linemen, he still is very very good, and has plenty of size. However, I don't expect this to translate into a weakness for the line. If he doesn't perform on gameday, there is lots of depth here willing to take his spot - Olsen, in particular, is breathing down his neck.

C - John Sullivan, Senior (RS) - 6'4" 303 lbs.
The anchor of this line, the fifth year center nicknamed "Sully" is one of, if not the best, center in the country; certainly a candidate for All-American honors and the Rimington Award (nation's top center).
Sully has started 33 of the past 37 games at center, and in my opinion is the very best in the country at what he does. He will QB the offensive line, and like any good leader responsibility for mistakes will hit him first, before it lands on his fellow linemen. His return for a fifth year, much like John Carlson, is one of the biggest reasons why I have confidence in the Irish football team this year. Young is still too young (no pun intended) to step up into the veteran role, and without Sully, we wouldn't have enough experence to bring cohesion to this line.
Sullivan may be the most valuable player on the team this year, although he won't ever get credit for it.

RG - Dan Wenger, Sophomore - 6'4" 287 lbs.
Wenger is one of those players that you see each year that comes out of nowhere and elevates his game in the offseason. Last year he was hampered by injury and never got to show what he could do, and now that he's healthy he has impressed the coaching staff. Wenger is actually a natural center, and will move back inside once Sullivan moves on next year, which will bode well for next year's team, as he will have a full season to learn about the center position and running an offensive line from the country's best.

RT - Sam Young, Sophomore - 6'8" 310 lbs.
This beast of a man was First-team Freshman All-American last year, and the first ever Notre Dame freshman lineman to start the season opener of his freshman year. He is one of those phenoms that just takes to his position like a duck to water. He is an anchor at his position, and in just his sophomore year he may be able to play his way into some post-season award consideration this year (I'm thinking All-American Honorable Mention) as a true sophomore.


6'6" 302 lbs.

That's the average size of our offensive line. Coach Weis' recruiting acumen, and Coach Mendoza's weight training program, have combined to build an offensive line that deserves the old nickname "the big uglies."

By comparison, the D-lines (leaving out the academies, with all their restrictions) we'll face have the following average sizes:
Georgia Tech - 6'4" 268 lbs.
Penn State - 6'3" 290 lbs.
Michigan - 6'3" 284 lbs.
Michigan State - 6'4" 266 lbs.
Purdue - 6'4" 272 lbs.
UCLA - 6'3" 273 lbs.
Boston College - 6'3" 282 lbs.
Southern Cal - 6'4" 282 lbs.
Duke - 6'5" 269 lbs.
Stanford - 6'4" 274 lbs.
AVERAGE: 6'4" 276 lbs.

Even removing the academies, with their restrictions, our O-line has a significant advantage in sheer size, to the tune of 2 inches and 28 pounds. Of course, O-lines are generally bigger that D-lines, but this year's line has some big Hosses on it.

By way of comparing apples to apples, Michigan's vaunted All-American O-line:
6'5" 308 lbs

We're in pretty good company this year for size on the O-line, and full of highly touted talent. Sullivan's experience anchoring the middle of the line will be the difference maker for the new starters, as well as a relief for the young quarterback and running backs as far as blitz pickup and run blocking is concerned.

This year's offensive line, in my opinion, will be the best of the Weis era thus far, and will pick up the slack for the inexperience behind them. Last year's line, despite their experence, lacked the raw talent and size of this year's line. As a result, our offensive production will probably be smilar to last year's, although Coach Weis may choose to trade quick strike capability passing for ball control running this year.

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