Say the name Tom Brady and many people think "best quarterback in the NFL." Think of Brady's accomplishments and people think Super Bowls. But is Brady the best quarterback in the NFL? The better question: does he need to be to win? The same question can be applied to Brady Quinn.
Tom Brady doesn't have the stats of many of the other top quarterbacks in the NFL. Brady was the No. 10 passer in the NFL in passing yards. He ranked No. 9 in pass efficiency and finished ranked No. 6 in touchdowns with 28--Payton Manning led the league with 49.
Tom Brady certainly was a big reason the Patriots have won Super Bowls, but he's not the only reason. New England ranked No. 7 in the NFL in rushing offense last season thanks to the addition of Corey Dillon, and I'm going to guess Weis knows more than anyone how much Dillon meant to the Patriots in 2004.
Weis isn't stupid. He knows a solid running game is a quarterback's best friend.
Here's some quick facts for you.
Utah's Alex Smith recently signed a big contract as the first pick the 2005 NFL draft, but Smith also had the luxury of a rushing attack that averaged 226 yards per game and finished ranked No. 13 in the country in rushing in 2005.
Cal's Aaron Rodgers is also cashing a big NFL check this season , but he also had the luxury of an outstanding rushing attack that averaged 256 yards on the ground, good enough to finish ranked No. 6 in the country.
Think of great passing programs and Louisville and Boise State come to mind, however, both teams also finished with outstanding stats on the ground. The Cardinals averaged 250 yards per game to finish No. 8., and Boise State averaged 230 yards on the ground, good enough to finish No. 14 in the country in rushing.
If Charlie Weis is as smart as I believe he is, he's likely most concerned with turning the No. 85-ranked rushing offense into a powerhouse instead of making Quinn a Heisman winner in 2005.
It's hard to understand how the Irish, a once dominant rushing team, could morph into a team that sometimes takes three plays to pick up two yards on the ground.
The Irish have five players who've combined for 101 starts—that is some serious experience. As a matter of fact, four out of the five returning starters have spent the last two seasons playing alongside each other. The vast majority of NFL teams don't have that kind of continuity.
The best chance for success in 2005, in my opinion, is to get back to some power football behind a big and experienced offensive line.
Why do I say that?
One, it will keep an inexperienced defense off the field. If the Irish can put together successful, time-consuming scoring drives, the opposition won't have as many chances to score.
Two, the Irish should have a good chance of running the ball against the first four teams on their schedule.
Notre Dame should have an advantage against Pittsburgh in the first game of the season. Pitt is replacing two three-year starters inside at defensive tackle, but they do return some talented linebackers. However, a veteran offensive line should be able to get enough push against the Pitt defense to dominate the line of scrimmage. Notre Dame rushed for 179 yards last season in their game against the Panthers, but new head coach Dave Wannsdstedt comes with plenty of defensive expertise.
The Irish head to Michigan in the second game of the season and the Wolverines return two starters up front, but this current offensive line did have success running against Michigan last season in Notre Dame Stadium (135 yards and two touchdowns on the ground). The Wolverines finished ranked No. 39 against the rush in 2004 allowing 133 rushing yards per game. If the Irish can have a similar performance in Ann Arbor, they might have a chance to steal the game—much easier said than done.
Only five starters return on defense for Michigan State in 2005. The Spartans finished ranked No. 72 against the run in 2004 allowing 172 yards per game on the ground. However, the Spartans do have a pair of 300-pound tackles that could challenge the Irish offensive line this year. The Irish picked up 173 yards on the ground against the Spartans last season, so they should have success again in 2005.
The fourth game of the season the Irish will take on many of their former coaches in a game against Washington. Kent Baer did a nice job of stopping the run while at Notre Dame, but the Huskies did allow almost 184 yards per game on the ground, and that's was playing the majority of their games in the pass-happy Pac 10. Notre Dame chipped in 146 on the ground against the Huskies in their game in Notre Dame Stadium last season. A good ground game could be the key to success in Seattle to quiet what many expect to be a very rowdy crowd.
If the Irish can gain some momentum running the ball early in 2005, the rest should fall in place for a successful season. A good rushing attack will take the pressure of Brady Quinn, and more importantly, an inexperienced defense. If the opposition doesn't have the ball, it's going to be hard for them to score.
The time is now for this offensive line. They have plenty of experience and plenty of talent. They can carry the load early for Notre Dame and set the tone for the season. But will they do it is the question.
I'm just as excited as anyone to see how Brady Quinn, Maurice Stovall, Rhema McKnight, Matt Shelton and Anthony Fasano mature into this new offense, but the key to a successful season, at least in my mind, will be the play of Ryan Harris, Bob Morton, Dan Santucci, John Sullivan, Dan Stevenson and Mark LeVoir.
If they can get the job done early, we'll be seeing plenty of highlights from those skill players listed above.