Irish offensive line coach John Latina will be starting his 27th year of college coaching when the team takes the field for fall camp. His primary responsibility will be putting together an offensive line that has some experience, and developing players who can step into the rotation. His task will not be easy, but coach Latina is happy with the group he has to work with. Irish Eyes spoke with Latina at media Day.>
Latina said he was pleased with the results of summer conditioning and the focus and effort his players devoted to getting better this off-season.
It looks like some players got stronger and made some good gains in the weight room. They look like they are in good shape and hopefully with these gains we will see a stronger football team out there on the field," Latina said.
"Without naming individuals, we hope our second group will improve because they improved during spring practice," Latina explained. "We have a lot more time with them now as opposed to spring practice, so we hope they can start where we left off at spring practice.
"Whoever is in that second group or third group, we will find out who can play at this level and who is going to show up and get better and who we can count on. I think we have a few kids that can do that and that is what fall camp is for.
"I think football is still a very physical game and obviously the positions I teach you want tough, physical football players. You're in the trenches and you are getting heavy contact every play, and if you're not a tough-minded guy and play physical, it is a hard game to play. So we are going stress being physical and tough."
Latina will have to develop a lot of young players during this camp and the season, and the veteran coach said he does not have just one style of coaching when trying to help these young players develop.
"Every kid is different and every kid has different buttons you have to push," he explained. "You have to coach in many different styles, but the basis of my coaching is hopefully being a good teacher and being a good teacher of fundamentals and physical play.
We asked the coach if there is a feeling of urgency to fill in the depth chart.
"I think every football team in the country feels that way right now," he stated. "I certainly feel that as the line coach here at Notre Dame. Depth is always a critical thing, so there is always urgency to develop depth. I expect we will have some players who will play dual positions. We had that happen with a couple of the players in the spring and we had it happen with a couple of our incoming freshmen. Whoever is capable of doing that mentally, I think it is a healthy thing when a guy can play more than one position."
Latina also stated that pass protection will be one of the keys to the success of the offense this season.
""It starts with fundamentals," he said. "Anytime you play on the offensive line, it doesn't matter if it is run or pass, you have to be great with fundamentals. Our fundamental work in fall camp is going to be critical and hopefully we will be more physical in our pass protection game.
"A lot of people think pass protection is finesse, but you have to be a physical pass protector, too. I'm hoping what they learned in the spring and what they learn in fall camp will help us to improve the pass protection."
The New Castle, Pennsylvania, native has also been impressed with quarterback Brady Quinn.
"Brady is obviously a good player and a good leader," said Latina. "But the most important thing is that you hope everybody on the team is a leader. Hopefully on the offensive line we have leaders and hopefully every group throughout the team will have leaders."
Like all the coaches and players we talked to on Monday, Latina was chomping at the bit to get out on the practice field again.
"I'm very anxious to get out there on the field," he said. "That is what it is all about. For me being a coach, the most fun I have is practice. You really have control of the environment and you have the chance to take the kids and develop them and watch them get better on a daily basis. So to me the most fun in coaching is practice."
Irish Eyes believes the offensive line is in good hands with coach Latina, and we expect to see much improvement in the overall play of the 2005 offensive line.