Irish Making Progress Up Front

Offensive centers and guards coach, John McDonell, has had a difficult start to the season. His young and inexperienced unit has struggled at times—as well as the offense in general. Last week against Pitt, his unit came together and dominated the Pittsburgh defense for 352 rushing yards. Irish Eyes caught up with McDonnell to get his thoughts on his young group of offensive linemen.

McDonell said the Pittsburgh game impressed him but his unit is still a work in progress at this point. "I think that obviously, it was a step in the right direction but we've got to keep level heads," said McDonell. "We've got to realize that we still have a lot of work to do--a lot of getting better and growing up. It was good to get a win."

McDonell is an animated coach on the field. We asked him if he got as excited as his players when they were dominating Pitt. "Before the game, there was a lot emotion and high energy and the players were that way too. I think that slowly, but surely they're starting to see things and recognize things and function the way we want, and that's what we got."

Something had to change with this unit so we asked McDonell if they changed their blocking schemes—made it easier on their young line. "A little bit--everything was still in but we kind of went back to the basics and kind of evaluated what we thought we were doing well and kind of build on from there."

Dan Stevenson was switched to his more natural position of offensive guard. Stevenson moved from right tackle opening the spot for freshman Ryan Harris at right tackle. Both played very well and the move was a wise one.

"We knew from last year, that's where he predominately played, so it gives us the bye week to kind of tinker with things and move kids around," McDonell said. "When the game kind of arrived, that is what we thought we should do."

The Irish coaches felt some changes needed to be made and we asked McDonell if the coaches were done with their tinkering. "I don't think so. For right now, it's going in the right direction. We still want to keep the competition high and a lot of guys have played. Right now, it seems like we're going in the right direction."

Irish fans ask us all the time why the staff feels they need two offensive line coaches. McDonell says the line is obviously critical to offensive success. "I think that the view is that four eyes are better than two. Everything is focused in on, every stone is unturned and all those things when you have two offensive line coaches."

"Very much so," was his response when asked if he and tackles coach Mike Denbrock sit down before the game and decide how to attack the opposition. "Let's watch film, what do you think here, what do you think there. Come up with a good game plan and present it to Coach Diedrick, and he kind of gives his insights and we go from there."

Center Bob Morton has shown that he's a fiery player and McDonell has liked what he's seen from this sophomore. "He's been doing a good job. Obviously, he's been building from the injury. Each game he's getting a little bit better. He is a wonderful young man, very gregarious and outgoing, but the game of football is very, very important to him. To exceed and do well is very important to him. He's a hard critic on himself, and I like that, so he's always working to get better."

Sophomore Jamie Ryan appears to be the odd man out with the switch of Stevenson to guard. McDonell says Ryan is still in the hunt for playing time. "He's still in the thick of things. He kind of tweaked a ham (hamstring) a little bit. He's still doing fine. He's still going in the right direction."

Would the Irish consider spelling left guard Mark LeVoir with Ryan? "Could be, inside guy, somewhere in there. Usually you keep them on one side or another. As it continues on, I think you can be able to do some of those kind of things."

There has been quite a buzz about freshman center, John Sullivan. McDonell says the buzz is worthy. "We're still very pleased with him. Right now, it's kind of wait and see as far as what we're going to do, but we're always preparing him to play. He's a tenacious young man, love his work ethic and I love his enthusiasm for the game of football. I think he does have a bright future."

The Irish play USC this week and McDonell's young unit will go against "the wild bunch" from USC. McDonell says that while his unit is young, they've already played against some good defensive fronts already this year.

"They're a very good front, but we've played a rigorous schedule," said McDonell. "We have played very good fronts, we have played very good football teams. They're obviously very, very good, but I feel like we have the ability to match their intensity and focus, and get after them and fight them."

One gets the feeling that the Irish are starting to develop some continuity at offensive line. One also gets the feeling that this line is close to becoming a dominating line—they certainly showed they can be against Pittsburgh.

When Sullivan is ready--look out competition because this unit is really going to shine. We keep saying it--nobody wants to believe--this offensive line is going to be very good in the near future.


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