Mak LeVoir will be making the switch from left guard to right tackle this spring. MeVoir said the change won't be a difficult one. Not really because I had an advantage because I played there my sophomore year. I came in as a freshman and played and the technique is kind of the same, then I had the whole sophomore year to pick up the system at tackle. I think now as a whole I have a much better grasp of the offense, when I am in there I can help out both the tight ends and the guards."
LeVoir said both he and coach Mike Denbrock sat down to discuss his new position. One area they agreed he needed to change was the weight he was carrying. They both felt he needed to be a little quicker to play tackle. "That was a goal we both came up with. Last year at guard you can get away with being a bit heavier but I really didn't need the extra weight, there is no reason to have it because if I have lost weight and kept my strength that's just an advantage for me. I'm that much faster so I move better. I'm lighter on my feet. We both came to the conclusion it was better for me to lose some weight and I feel a lot better already."
Quarterback Brady Quinn mentioned to us yesterday that the offensive line appears to be a tighter group. We asked LeVoir if he saw what Quinn was seeing. "We are starting to do that, it's an important key. We are working hard and working together, not that we didn't do that last year but I think we have more guys who are closer in age so that helps."
One positive for the offensive line will be the experience they gained going through the growing pains of last year. LeVoir says he thinks the Irish have a number of players who can contribute this year along the offensive line. "It's definitely better to have that and we have a lot of great players and we have a lot of guys who can play. That helps and it helps in terms of pushing everyone to get that much better because you know your job isn't secure and you want to prove you are the top guy. That's good although we still have a long way to go, we are all trying to improve and help each other out."
The 5-7 season last season hasn't sat well with many Irish players including LeVoir. "I just think we've put that behind us, we don't want that taste in our mouth. You come to Notre Dame to win. Point blank. That is why we all came here. That is not going to happen again. All you can do is look back on our mistakes, we have to correct them. Obviously things weren't right last year and ourselves as players, we have to look at how we can get better and improve and how we screwed up."
In speaking with offensive line coach Mike Denbrock earlier last week, one player he mentioned that has really stepped up in the off-season along the offensive line has been Dan Stevenson. Stevenson found a home at right guard after being tried at right tackle early in 2003. He clearly looked more comfortable at right guard.
We asked Stevenson about Denbrock's comments and if he saw a similar commitment with the other offensive linemen this winter. "I think is has been somewhat across the board but being a senior next year means it's my time to step up and my turn to take a role as a leader," said Stevenson. "That's something I have tried to demand and lead by example to the younger guys and so everyone has been working really hard in the off-season to make sure what happened last year doesn't happen this year. I think as far as my commitment to myself, obviously I didn't have the kind of season I wanted last year so I told myself that just wasn't going to happen again. I am a better football player than that. My mindset was to go out there and let people see the real Dan Stevenson, the football player.
Leadership is a good role for Stevenson. He's one of the more vocal leaders on the field. We asked Dan if he felt the Irish had enough leaders. "That is obviously something that is really important and as spring goes on I think it will be even more intense. Right now we are going through the fundamentals, but once the balls start flying it will be a big time for the leaders to step up. I think especially in the off-season people have been more vocal, getting out there and saying we've got to get this done, and not letting what happened last year happen again."
Stevenson also sees a change among the offensive line. He said the entire group worked on becoming closer as a unit. "I think that is something not only I but the whole offensive line wanted to accomplish, that was to really come together. To play well as an offensive line, you really have to be close and you really have to know each other and that was a big role for us in the off season. Mickey helped us with that, working out together and things like that. I think we have really improved on that."
The Barrington, Ill. native also believes it's time for the offense to start carrying their own weight. "The last couple of years the offense hasn't been our strength, it's been our defense. It comes to the point where you have to step up and say this our time, we are going to make best of it and we are going to have an offense that can throw 40 up on a team. We are not going to be second-class citizens to the defense. We are going to be the primetime guys."
This will be Stevenson's final year for the Irish. An NFL future could be on the horizon for Stevenson, but he says he's solidly focused on 2004 and only 2004. "I am trying to stay in the now and not look to the future. Obviously the NFL is every kid's dream so if I am fortunate enough in time to go that step then I'd love to, but right now I want to take care of myself. If I can go out there and play the kind of football I am capable of then that is all I am really worried about. The rewards will come later."