Head coach Charlie Weis would be the first to tell you that any offense and offensive scheme will only be as good as the play of the offensive line. Fortunately for Weis, he'll have five starters returning in 2005 and another player who should be considered a starter.
But after those six players, Notre Dame is very thin on both numbers and experience.
Jeff Thompson, Zach Giles and Darin Mitchell were not invited back for 2005, and injuries have ended Jamie Ryan's career. Nobody is certain if senior James Bonelli will be back for 2005 as he's been suspended from the team.
Potentially, Notre Dame will have just six scholarship players backing up the six starters along the offensive line for 2006—that is not a lot of room for error.
Currently, Notre Dame has two starters playing their final season this year along the offensive line in Dan Stevenson and Mark LeVoir. Both players have been sound players for Notre Dame for the past two seasons and will be missed.
However, Ryan Harris, Brian Mattes, Bob Morton, Scott Raridon, Dan Santucci and James Bonelli (if reinstated) would have just one final season of eligibility remaining after this coming season.
Center John Sullivan will have two years remaining after the 2005 season.
Sophomores Chauncey Incarnato and John Kadous will have four years left after red-shirting in their first year.
The Irish do have two freshmen offensive linemen reporting in August, Paul Duncan and Mike Turkovich, who would also have four years of eligibility.
However, when Stevenson and LeVoir graduate after this season, the Irish could have just 10 scholarship players—barely enough to fill out a two-deep--for spring practice, and five of those players will be entering their final season for Notre Dame.
That would leave just center John Sullivan, and four potential tackles as the only scholarship players beyond 2006 (besides anyone they'd sign this year), and we don't expect any (maybe one) of these four potential tackles to get considerable playing time in the 2006 season due to the depth chart in front of them.
The concern is that Sullivan might be the only player with any considerable playing experience starting along the offensive line in 2007, and that's if he stays healthy.
Obviously, at least one of the four tackles will have to be moved to guard to solve the guard position problem, and we've heard John Kadous is a likely candidate.
With only five current players who would have eligibility in 2007, that leaves very little room for error. All five better be starter-quality players or Notre Dame will be relying on a lot of red-shirt freshmen to come in and start in 2007.
Keep in mind that we're not factoring in injuries or career-ending injuries that can be common among offensive linemen. If the Irish suffer any injuries the problem obviously becomes worse.
The good news is head coach Charlie Weis has ample opportunity to sell this recruiting season. Any offensive lineman has a very good chance to start by their second season or sooner if they sign with Notre Dame this year.
The opportunity is great for any offensive lineman signing with the Irish this season. Essentially, they are guaranteed to be on the two-deep by the end of their freshmen season.
That should be a very attractive thing for any offensive linemen looking at Notre Dame during this recruiting season.