Irish Improving Along Offensive Line

The Irish are a little more than halfway through spring practice. Offensive line has been a question on the minds of many Irish fans so we thought we'd find out the latest along the offensive line. We spoke with offensive tackles and tight ends coach Mike Denbrock to get his assessment on their progress so far this spring.

Freshman Ryan Harris has moved back to left tackle after playing most of the season at right tackle. Denbrock says Harris is settling in nicely at a familiar position. "Ryan's really doing a good job," said Denbrock. "He's kind of getting some of the real subtle things down about the position and getting more comfortable every day. I really like the progress he's been making."

An injury has hindered the progress of Mark LeVoir at right tackle. LeVoir could really use the reps this spring after making the move from left guard last fall. "It really hurts. It's really been unfortunate with his injury that he hasn't been able to get more reps. He's getting a ton of work on the side—footwork, just bending and working on getting his pad level where it needs to be. As long as continues to put the type of effort into the little things while he can't be involved in the bigger picture, it's going to be that much better for him when he gets back."

The Irish will be looking for a third tackle or even a backup plan if LeVoir can't handle the right tackle position. We asked Denbrock if he's found an answer for a third tackle candidate. "Right now we're very happy with the progress of Bryan Mattes and Scott Raridon. I think both of those guys have done a good job so far of becoming more consistent and doing some very good things. I think you also have to turn to a guy like Jamie Ryan when he gets full go and give him a look as well."

The Irish also appear to be grooming John Sullivan this spring to start at offensive guard. We asked Denbrock if the plan was to have Sullivan start and to move Bobby Morton to guard. "It's kind of a work in progress. We worked Bobby quite a bit at guard today and John at center. I think both of those guys have a lot ability to play the game and it's going to be really hard to keep either one of them off the field. We've got to find a place for both of them to get out there and get after it."

The third guard would likely be Ryan, but he's also been banged up this spring. "We're really excited about the things that Jamie brings to the table. He hasn't been involved in any team scrimmage things up to this point. He's just been kind of doing drill work with us and working on the side with Mark LeVoir. I think there's nothing but good things for Jamie in his future. I really liked some of the progress he made during the season last year. When he does get the OK to go full, I really look for good things."

Denbrock also coaches the tight ends for the Irish. Competition for playing time this spring has been fierce. We asked Denbrock if he could name a starter at this point. "I will say that all five of those guys have done good things. Their consistency, more than anything else, has really improved. It's a nice problem to have. It would be difficult to pick a starter right now."

Former outside linebacker turned tight end, Jerome Collins has really made an impact in his short time at the position. "I think his overall athleticism is a real plus. When he catches the ball he's got an opportunity to not just maybe get you 10 yards but he might be able to get you the whole thing. That's a dimension that maybe we haven't had at this point that he brings to the table."

"He's showing some really good hands to this point," Denbrock continued. "There's a lot of parts of his game that he knows need to improve if he's going to be an all down player for us. He's working really hard on those things. I'm really happy with his progress."

Without experience in blocking as a tight end, we asked Denbrock how Collins looks as a blocker. "Not bad, he's really done some pretty good things. He's a good enough athlete that he can get up on a guy that he's trying to block pretty quickly. It's a work in progress. I think he's learning and growing. I'm just excited about where he's going."

Marcus Freeman has also made a strong push for playing time this spring according to Denbrock. "I think Marcus, as much as anybody, has been consistent in his play this spring. He's put himself into a position that he's going to be a hard guy to keep off the field."

Freshman John Carlson is still learning at this point but shows signs of being a great one. "At times you can see where he's kind of still going through the thought process of being sure about how we want him to do it and when we want him to do certain techniques and certain things. From an athletic standpoint, and just body type, and the way he plays, the aggressiveness, very, very good football player and (I'm) excited about where he's going too."

One player missing has been Anthony Fasano. Fasano would be considered the likely starter if healthy as he was pushing to be the fulltime starter before being injured. "It's killing him," said Denbrock of Fasano having to sit out spring. "I think part of that goes with those other five guys and the type of competition there is. It's hard to sit there and watch other guys have a lot of success and know that you're not quite to the point health-wise where you can get in there and do those things. I don't look for Anthony to miss a beat. He's able to get sometimes into seven-on-seven drills and catch the ball and run. He looks really good. He looks like he's really coming along."

The Irish just can't seem to catch some luck. Losing both LeVoir and Ryan for the spring has to hurt. Notre Dame could've really used a spring with all five starters working as a unit and the reserves working in now and again. We'll have to see if that hinders their progress in the fall.


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