Dan Stevenson says the offensive line has really improved this year and one of the main reasons has been playing against the Notre Dame defense. "I think it helps definitely--especially for the young guys," said Stevenson when asked if playing against the Notre Dame defense has helped the offensive line. "Playing well against the group like we have with our defense, which is one of the best in country, obviously, that's going to give you a ton of confidence. Going against them every day is just going to make us that much better."
Consistency has been a problem for the Irish offensive line. The line watches tape after every practice and Irish Eyes asked Stevenson if he felt this unit is becoming more consistent. "Personally, I definitely think so. We're doing a lot of great things out there. I think we are more consistent than we were last year. Last year we did some good things but I think we are a lot more consistent this year."
A very encouraging sign has been the emotion the offense has been showing on the field. Stevenson said that emotion has come from the coaches and it just trickles down to the team. "I think a lot of it is leadership. The coaches have been telling us that we can be a great offense and offensive line and that kind of trickles down to us. I think in the past around here, we kind of focused more on defense. Now the coaches are trying to get us to become a great offensive team and score more points. When we score a touchdown, we should be pumped up and I think some of us older guys have been trying to make an effort to bring everyone up, get excited and to kind of get rowdy on the sideline. If the defense is going to yell and scream every play why can't the offense because it really does make a difference."
The offensive center position appears to be the only position that is still up for grabs right now. We asked Stevenson who will likely win that job. "It's hard to say. Both Bobby (Morton) and Zach (Giles) are doing some great things and trying to earn that spot. The main reason both are playing so well is the fact that they both really want that job. It's not going to be handed to them so I think they're both working really hard. No matter who is in there, I think we have a lot of confidence in both of them to get the job done."
Sean Milligan has been battling a sore back and Stevenson says he admires his ability to play through the pain. "Sean obviously has a lot of talent. He's had a little bad luck. Anyone who is going to play through it is obviously very mentally strong. To see him go out there and do it is awesome because he's really helping our offense. He's feeling a lot better than he was so he should be fine for the season."
The offensive line appears to be turning the corner right now. Stevenson said that they have had more success this year in fall camp than last year and that they have plenty of time to become a great offensive line. "I think we have a lot of room to grow. We're doing things right now that I don't think we did as consistently in the past. There's still so many small details that were messing up on, small mistakes and if we can just bring it all together, we'll be that much more explosive and powerful on offense."
There does appear to be a definite change in attitude on offense. It appears the offense is having fun playing football, just as the defense appeared to be having fun last fall camp. "Football is always fun for me. Obviously it's a great opportunity, I stepped into a different role and I'm really enjoying playing where I'm at but I just love playing football. I enjoy hitting people."
Irish Eyes spoke to defensive end Justin Tuck at media day. Tuck said that Dan Stevenson was the most difficult player on the offensive line to get around. Tuck also said that Stevenson plays hard—might even cheat a little. "Definitely, when you beat someone on a consistent basis, they are going to call you cheap or something like that," said Stevenson jokingly. "I just try to go out there and play the game hard. That's how offensive line is and how it's played. They always call me cheap and that I'm hitting guys after the whistle but playing offensive line is a battle and I don't like to lose."
Stevenson has stepped into a leadership role this year. He will be playing with a lot of new faces along the offensive line so we asked Dan how he will handle the first game with some of the younger linemen. "I just talk to them. Just showing them little things and kind of what Faine did for me last year. He'd pull me aside and show me little things--told me what it was going to be like. Just talking to them, calming them down and getting them more focused on what is going on. Knowing what it's like as a young guy myself, you kind of get antsy and nervous. You just have to pull them aside and get their mind focused and give them and idea of what it's like and what teams are going to try to do."
The offense appears to be working on spreading out defenses this year. They have a lot more routes that should challenge defenses both vertically and horizontally. Stevenson says that spreading the field should really help the offensive line this year. "When you are able to spread the field, it always keeps defenses honest. They can't drop eight guys in the box. They can't play their Will linebacker in an in between look and that keeps the game honest. With the amount of talent that we have, if we can keep teams honest, we should have a great year. You can't block eight guys with six or seven, that's just how it is and I think that was one of the biggest problems last year."
The excitement in Stevenson was obvious. One gets the sense that he really thinks this team is going to be special. "I really do, I think we are going to be absolutely dominate. The things that we're doing, we're really moving the ball like I don't we have in the past. This is going to be a huge year that we're going to explode. Hopefully the first game but sometime this year, I think everyone is going to see an offense that they didn't think was here."