Sean Milligan will look across the offensive line this year and see a lot of new faces. Milligan started all but one game last year playing 266 minutes. He also started five games in 2001 so he has been through the wars. Milligan is optimistic about this offensive line. "We're doing better. We had a good practice today. It's slowly but surely coming along. We're making small strides and that's all we can ask from the young guys, we don't expect them to become great players over night."
The Norcross, GA lineman confirms that this coaching staff is really focusing on technique this year. "They are focusing on the fundamentals and staying low," said Milligan. "They said looking back on the film last year that we didn't do a good of that. That's a big focus for us this spring."
The offensive line took the brunt of the criticism last year and Milligan said this unit couldn't wait to get out there and prove they are good players. "We have something to prove. We want to prove that we don't need those four guys to be a good offensive line. They're a bunch of good guys and friends of mine and it's hard to replace them but we want to prove ourselves and want to say we're just as good as they were and will be better."
Notre Dame has 12 scholarship offensive linemen this spring—not a large number to choose from. Out of the 12, only six have been playing offensive line for the Irish the last two years. Out of the other six, Jeff Thompson is the only player that is not a true freshman. He was moved to offensive line this spring after playing defensive line early in his career. Scott Raridon and James Bonelli were the only two freshmen healthy enough to practice the entire year. Jamie Ryan sat out with a blood clot; Bob Morton sat out with a knee injury and Brian Mattes practiced last fall as a defensive end/defensive tackle.
Milligan knows that it's going to be difficult to get these young players ready to play to provide some depth along the offensive line. "I think they can get ready to play as the season goes on. They probably won't be ready on day one or the first game. Throughout the season I think they will continue to get better. They made a lot of strides actually this spring, especially Brian (Mattes). Brian had never played offensive line and he has to come a long way but he has caught on quick. I'm just trying to be there for any questions they have and anything they need. I'm trying to be that person that they can come to that can explain it to them on offensive line terms and not just coaching terms."
So far the offensive line has been able to make some progress against a very good defense. "We're definitely holding our own," Milligan said. "We win some and they (defense) win some. They're a great defense and we try to be a great offensive line so they're going to win some but we are winning some battles too."
The focus this spring has been on the fundamental and technique. Milligan knows the focus will change in the fall and he thinks his unit will be ready. "The goal is to win. We want to win the National Championship and we realize that the offensive line will play a big part in that goal. It will take some time to get these guys ready but we are starting to come together. The first unit is really starting to come together and the younger guys are out there giving it everything they have. We get to go against a great defensive line every day in practice and that should help us get ready for what we will see in the fall."
This will be the final year for Milligan and many of his friends will be drafted shortly in the NFL draft. Sean says he hopes to hear his name called next April during the draft and his season will have a purpose. "I want to prove that I'm a good enough player to play in the NFL. I want to prove that I'm not just a plug in guy. That I can be a leader on the offensive line and be a leader for Notre Dame."
Milligan might be a little lonely this year because he had logged so many minutes with the last group of offensive linemen. He was an inexperienced, green and young offensive lineman two years ago when he first started seeing action so he knows what these players will go through. His hope is to provide the same kind of leadership and counsel that many gave him. He will have a difficult job ahead of him but he remains confident these young players will be ready to play.