McDonell Happy with Center Battle

Offensive centers and guards coach John McDonell is quite the character on the practice field. He's a yeller; he's a participant, a congratulator and one of the most animated coaches you will find. McDonell makes no bones about his coaching style and one gets the sense that his players feels he's one of them. McDonell spoke to Irish Eyes at Media Day last week and he gave us the latest on the offensive center battle and his coaching style.

McDonell says that center hopefuls Zach Giles and Bobby Morton are in the midst of a great battle for the starting spot. McDonell says he's pleased with their effort so far. "It's the competition aspect of it - keeping them hungry, keeping that hunger level, so they will go a bit more. They've done a great job so far."

The 6-3, 290-pound Giles is a fiery competitor according to McDonell. His strength has been his biggest asset so far according to McDonell—Morton is more of a tactician. "Zach is incredibly strong; he is one of the stronger lifters in our program so therefore at the point of attack he's pretty strong. Bobby, even for his age, he's pretty cerebral, he understands things really, really well. He does a good job too so it's been a fun competition."

McDonell says he isn't worried about the battle right now--he wouldn't be concerned if the battle went into the season before a starter is named. "Yeah, you can use two. You look at it like a one and two quarterback. It's the same kind of a deal, sometimes you feel comfortable with two guys. That's a good thing, not necessarily something to be concerned about."

Both Giles and Morton have also been getting a look at offensive guard. McDonell says both have been given a look at guard to get them experience and knowledge of different positions. "You look at it from two standpoints. The more positions you play, the easier it is to play because of the ability to play a couple of different positions. Secondly, it is also a great learning tool for players. For example, for a center to play guard, now he can understand when the guard communicates with him because he has been through it before. It allows them to work better together."

The future might be another reason and McDonell agrees. Freshmen John Sullivan reported to Notre Dame as a center prospect in August and Sullivan appears to a player with a bright future. "There is future planning there too, you never know what might unfold," said McDonell. "When kids come in you try to experiment with them a little bit to try and see just where their best position might be."

McDonell says he has faith in his unit and that they just need to get some experience before they are ready. "There's plenty of hope, they are great kids and they are working hard. That is what practice is for. Practice is to go through the aches and the pains, get down and get dirty, get yelled at. All those fun things so that when game time comes they'll let it all rip."

McDonell's coaching style is animated. He feels that his style best fits the unit he is coaching and that his players need someone like him--someone to correct them when needed but also to celebrate with them in a job well done. "They want someone who is emotionally involved to be there for them and to understand what they are going through. I think you have to go both ways - praise when they do well and correct when they are not doing well."

The offensive line received much of the blame in 2002 for the lack of production. McDonell says the offensive line is the largest group and he expects to be blamed when they don't produce. "We have big shoulders and that's generally the way it goes. I think we understand our role whether it is true or not. I always use the adage of the quarterback - if he throws an interception but hits the receiver right in the hands and the ball pops up, it's an interception that he threw rather than something else. That's the way it is with the offensive line - we are the largest connected group, five guys, so we have a large part of the whole offensive scheme. We have the play well for us to succeed."

Will the offensive line be more productive in 2003? "I think so, obviously you think that way," said McDonell. "There will be times when it is not successful but the main thing is to maintain that consistency and confidence amongst the players, the coaches and everyone involved. That's what we are striving for."

The Irish are in the middle of fall camp right now and Irish Eyes has been at every practice finding the latest inside scoop. You will not find better practice reports anywhere. Do you want to know how of the offensive line is progressing? How does Carlyle Holiday look this fall? What about Julius Jones? You will find it all in a Total Access Pass for Irish Eyes as well as updates on almost every player on the 2003 roster. Don't miss out on all the inside scoop.

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