Denbrock Hopeful Heading Into Spring Practice

Spring football practice begins on Monday and the progress of the offensive line will be a hot topic all spring. We caught up with offensive tackles and tight end coach Mike Denbrock to get his thoughts on the offensive line and tight ends heading into spring practice.

The first order of business was to get an idea of where each player might be lining up this spring. The scuttlebutt has been that Mark LeVoir will move from his left guard position to right tackle for the spring. Denbrock confirmed they were going to try LeVoir at tackle. "He's certainly one of the guys we're going to look at," said Denbrock of LeVoir. "In an effort to put the best five guys out there, we felt that Mark was one of those. There's some things we feel he could do a lot better. He obviously has the size and he's got the athletic ability to make that move."

Denbrock said the first order of business was to reshape LeVoir's body a bit to give him the extra quickness needed to play tackle. "That was one of the main priorities for him heading into the winter. He doesn't need to be 325 pounds. He's able to carry that weight and still be pretty effective, but I thought for quickness, especially if he's going to play on the edge for us, he had to drop some weight. I think he's done that."

Another player who will compete for the right tackle job is Brian Mattes. Denbrock says Mattes just needs some experience. "I love everything that Bryan has done. He's done absolutely everything we've asked of him since moving over from defense. It's more of an experience factor more than anything else. Brian just needs experience. He's going to have every opportunity to jump in there and take that job. When you've got two guys who have ability that can compete for the same position, it brings out the best in both and what we're hoping for here."

But, is Mattes strong enough to compete? "I think he's a lot closer than he was at this time a year ago. I guess spring practice will tell us that. I was not at all unhappy with what he did when he got into games last year. Brian went in there and did a pretty solid job. He's coming along real well."

The move of LeVoir was made because the Irish will be moving Ryan Harris to left tackle. Harris has shown the excellent quickness needed to play left tackle according to Denbrock. "We're going to move Ryan to left. He's got the kind of quickness and feet you need to cover the backside of the quarterback. The sky is the limit for Ryan and I think he knows that. He's worked very hard in the off-season. I'm excited to see how he does there this spring."

Another tackle impressing Denbrock in the off-season is Scott Raridon. "Scottie is a guy that I think has done a tremendous job over the last year. He's really started to mature and understand what it's going to take to put himself into a position to get out there for us. I'm really pleased with his work over the winter. He's really improved his strength and he's improved his quickness. He's got more work to do, but I'm really pleased with the direction he's going."

Denbrock does not coach the interior offensive linemen, but we thought we'd ask him what the plans were for the interior guys. Dan Stevenson started the season last year as a tackle. Will Dan remain at offensive guard? "The plan for now is to definitely leave Dan inside. His experiment at tackle was probably more out of need than anything. He's another guy that I've really liked what he's done over the winter. He's kind of slimmed himself down a little bit. I think he's really taken on a leadership role with the young guys."

Bob Morton is another player than could be moving this spring. Many speculate Morton will replace LeVoir at left guard to make room for talented freshman, John Sullivan. "You can't ask for a more savvy or gritty competitor than Bobby Morton. He's going to play football for us somewhere—whether it's guard or center. It may be a combination of both."

Sullivan brings the nastiness any offensive line coach would want according to Denbrock. "John Sullivan brings the type of attitude that you are looking for in anybody that you coach. He's just a tenacious competitor and likes to get after people and we need that. It's going to be tough to keep him off the field this spring."

Another guard prospect who saw considerable time last year was Jamie Ryan. Ryan ended the 2003 season on the sidelines with an injury. We asked Denbrock if we'd see Jamie Ryan this spring. "I think Jamie brings some really nice things to the table. We're hopeful—cautiously optimistic that he's going to be able to do some of the things that he's capable of. He's a big, strong, powerful kid that can play with the aggressive style that we like. We've just got to wait and see how much he can do."

The other position Denbrock is responsible for is tight end. Denbrock has a wealth of talent at tight end already and now has added another talent to the mix, Jerome Collins. "I'm really excited about Jerome. He's the type of athlete that you look for as someone who can be a playmaker. He can run a lot better than a lot of linebackers and he can get down the middle of the field. He's got good, soft hands. We're going to have to see exactly how he fits having not had him in the structured environment for very long. It adds a little something that maybe we've lacked. I'm excited about it and I know he's excited about it."

Sophomore Anthony Fasano started to distance himself from the pack at the end of the year last season before succumbing to injury. We asked Denbrock if he expected Fasano to be ready for next season. "Anthony Fasano is a guy who makes us better offensively. He's good with the ball in his hands. He's turned himself into a more physical football player. He's a better blocker. We're very optimistic about him making a full recovery. We're not going to press it in the spring. We're going to give him the time he needs to heal. We're not going to put him into a position this spring where he can do some damage to himself."

Other tight ends in the mix are fifth-year seniors Jared Clark and Billy Palmer, and sophomore Anthony Freeman. Denbrock says all three have been working very hard. "Those guys are all determined that they're going to be the guy. With that atmosphere, obviously it creates a great deal of competition. And, from a coach's standpoint, that's a very positive thing."

Talented freshman, John Carlson, has been spending time with the Irish basketball team. We asked Denbrock if that experiment might hinder his development. "We shall see. That's going to be something we're going to have to take a real hard look at. I couldn't have been more pleased with what he did in the fall. He was a very, very competitive kid on the football field. He works very hard every second he's out there to do his absolute best. I think he brings some play-making ability to the offense. I think it's going to be very interesting to see how he does when he's not running the other team's plays and running our own."

The Irish should have a better season offensively as many players along the offensive line gained valuable experience. Denbrock says the pressure is on the offense this season to perform. "I just think that it's time. It's time for our offense to become what it should be. We've got a number of kids up front that got some very valuable experience. I think we feel that some people have kicked some sand in our face over the course of the last couple of years. I think we're determined to not let that happen again. I love the attitude of the players right now. I love the direction we're heading right now. Things are pointing to us maturing and becoming the type offense we can all be proud of."


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