John Latina has spent the vast majority of his coaching career coaching offensive line. The Newcastle. Pa. native has plenty of experience returning along the offensive line, but depth will be a big concern for 2005.
We asked Latina what he hoped to accomplish this spring with his group of veterans and hopefuls along the offensive line.
"First and foremost is to be able teach our system so they can grasp it," Latina said. "To try and allow them to grasp as much of the offense as they really can as an offensive line and as an offensive unit.
"To build depth is important as obviously an 11-game season, the more quality players you have, the better off you are going to be. Not only to make our front line better, but to really focus on the younger guys too, to see if they are going to be capable of helping us win games.
"I think that is real critical and obviously we will improve that, but how much you improve that is a critical gauge you have to have in spring practice."
The veteran coach believes spring practice is an ideal time to evaluate players and possible position changes.
"I've always been a line coach that likes to play the best five guys we have," he said. "So sometimes it means a guard learning how to play tackle or a tackle learning how to play guard to be able to have the flexibility to have the best five guys out there at all times. Building depth is always going to be critical."
The new staff has not had a lot of time or opportunity to evaluate the talent on hand, but Latina says he's liked what he's seen so far.
"We have only been around them for a very short period of time but to echo what coach Weis said, we have smart kids and smart guys to deal with," Latina said. "That's really quite an advantage as what that allows you to do is to implement more offense than you could some other place.
"So more schemes and more ways to attack somebody, hopefully, that will make people defend more offense. So we feel that is a great advantage we have here at Notre Dame--having smart guys who are capable of learning a lot of things."
Latina, who helped develop 10 NFL offensive linemen in his six seasons coaching the position at Ole Miss, believes the Irish players are ready for practice to begin.
"I think every kid in the country goes in to spring practice to hold onto and to improve from last year," he said. "Some great teams that had great years are trying to repeat that, and teams that are a little disappointed in the year are trying to find ways to rectify that. I think our kids are hungry and I think it is the time of year where every kid around the country probably feels the same way."
Latina does have five starters returning along the offensive line, and a sixth player, Dan Santucci, who has considerable experience. However, after those six, the cupboard is very bare in regards to experience.
The Irish were lucky last season avoiding serious injury along the offensive line, but they likely can't count on the same fortune for 2005. Developing depth will be crucial this spring for Latina, and the future success of the offense.