Denbrock Happy with Progress

Coach Mike Denbrock is in his second year as offensive tackles and tight ends coach at Notre Dame. Denbrock has a wealth of bodies and talent at tight end but the Irish have very little depth at offensive tackle. Irish Eyes caught up with Denbrock to get his thoughts on both positions and what we can expect from his units.

Denbrock entered the interviewing room after what appeared to be a solid practice for the offensive line. He had a hard time holding back his excitement. "I think we're on progress to do the types of things we want to do. The thing we've got to get to is having a morning practice where we score a few touchdowns and have some success become the norm and not a surprise. That's the type of mentality we're trying to build—that these guys should expect that kind of success every time we go out there. Today was the first step in that direction and we're happy with it."

Denbrock says that this offense can enjoy the success but it's only one practice. "We want them to understand number one, how we got there. We got there by the last eight practices really putting in the time and hard work to put us in a position to do it. Then, when we had a chance in a team situation, we took advantage of it. That's what we're trying to create. It was refreshing to see some of the signs that we're turning the corner but we could just as easily slip back the other way if we don't continue to work the way we have."

Jim Molinaro has really developed into a solid left tackle this fall. He has really impressed Irish Eyes with his pass blocking. We asked Denbrock if he thought Molinaro gave them a chance to be better at left tackle this year compared to last year. "I hope we can improve that position every year. I think Jimmy the tools necessary to play left tackle. He's got really good feet and he's put in the work this summer to be strong enough and to be ready to go. He brings the characteristic that we need to be a great left tackle. Some things that he sees, he sees for the first time because he hasn't been over there that long but he's improving."

Dan Stevenson is the other starting tackle. Denbrock says Stevenson should be set for a great year for the Irish. "I think he's a competitor and that's always positive. One thing you like in an offensive lineman is toughness and fortunately Dan has the tenacity that you need and he has the ability that you need. He should develop into a great player for us."

Denbrock says that the staff is starting to feel comfortable with the starting front five. Now they will experiment with players at other positions and see how they work out best. They are trying to build depth at each position. Jamie Ryan was working at right tackle but has moved to guard recently. "Right now we're working Jamie at guard to see if he feels comfortable there. We've gotten some good play out of Brian Mattes and Scott Raridon so far in camp and it's afforded us the luxury of looking at one of those guys inside and we happened to call on Jamie to make that move."

The tackle position doesn't have much depth right now behind Stevenson and Molinaro. The Irish don't have a single player with any playing experience. Both Brian Mattes and Scott Raridon are true sophomores—Ryan Harris is a true freshman. Denbrock says they have talent but they need a lot of work. "Both of those guys (Mattes and Harris) are as green as the grass. They haven't had the type of experience that you'd like. They are slowly gaining confidence and they have the physical tools to be successful and it's just a matter of the mental aspect of the game to come along. I think the physical end of things is really starting to come along and we look for good things from both of those guys in the future."

Denbrock also coaches tight ends for Notre Dame. He started fall camp with a wealth of bodies and talent but that talent has dwindled with the loss of Gary Godsey and the injury to Jared Clark. Clark is back now and Denbrock thinks this unit should be strong in 2003. "I would say those guys have benefited as much as anyone in our offense of having been in the system for a year," said Denbrock of his tight ends. "I think they're starting to gain an understanding of how to break down a defense when they are running their routes and put themselves into a position of separating from a defender. We didn't have that all the time last year-- I like that aspect of our game. I think our blocking has improved and I feel comfortable with those guys being in there in both run and pass situations."

The tight ends should see more action in 2003 according to Denbrock. "We're trying to do some things offensively to get those guys on the field. Understanding that we've got a lot of talent there, we're using different offensive sets and things like that and interchanging our personnel a little more than we did last year to give those guys a chance to play."

Billy Palmer appears to be running with the first team right now and is a great blocker. Jared Clark and Anthony Fasano appear to be the better receivers out of the three. We asked Denbrock if these three would be the most likely to play. "I would throw Marcus Freeman in there as well. He has the ability to get down the field and beat man-to-man coverage whether it's a safety or a linebacker. Really those three guys with their route running have done a great job. Billy has improved his ability from last year to run routes as well. I wouldn't say he's where I'd like him to be but he's made progress. When you talk about Jared, Anthony and Marcus, those are three guys that can get down the field and put pressure on the defense. It's starting to open up the types of things we envision our tight ends to be."

Denbrock also has a group of freshmen that he's really excited about. "I really like Greg Olsen and John Carlson. Athletically, wow! They are special guys. I think Greg Olsen, concept of our offense-wise might be slightly ahead of John and I think both of them have the ability to be great players here and I really look forward to working with them."

The tight ends should be a strength for the Irish offense. The offensive tackles are a strength for the offense as long as nobody get hurt. If one of the starters does get injured, it could be a long year for the offense. Hopefully both Molinaro and Stevenson stay healthy and Denbrock can work with the young and inexperienced players and prepare them to be ready to play in 2004.


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