Inexperience Main Problem for Irish O-line

The adjustment from high school to college football is usually a difficult adjustment to make for anyone, especially an offensive lineman. Most linemen aren't physically ready to perform until their third season, and most don't know the proper techniques or have the mental mindset needed to perform at a high level in the college game.

There's no question the Notre Dame offensive line has struggled most of the season, but most Irish fans expected some bumps in the road. What many didn't expect was how many bumps they'd have to endure during this 2007 season.

I, being 5-foot-9, 177 pounds, know little about offensive line play, so I thought I'd seek out some knowledge from some former Irish greats to get their thoughts on the Irish offensive line this season. Former Notre Dame All-American Aaron Taylor, and two-year starter Sean Milligan, took the time to speak with me to give us their thoughts on some of the problems up front this season.

"As a group, they're struggling," Taylor said. "They're very young, and some probably aren't ready to play physically. There's not a lot of experience out there anywhere. When you factor in that there's really very little leadership at all on offense due to the inexperience, a freshman quarterback, very young running backs and receivers, there's really no anchor point on this offense to look up to. I think that's why they're struggling."

The former Green Bay Packer says he has seen improvement this year, but that the inexperience really has been a problem thus far this season.

"Early on they looked very confused," Taylor said of the Irish offensive line. "When you're confused, that takes away a lineman's best advantage—aggressiveness. He may know the snap count, but when he sees a safety cheating up in the box, he's going through his reads and trying to figure out does he block this guy or that guy, what if he goes this way, and he's not quite sure. That takes away all the aggressiveness and the only advantage a lineman has. That may be why they're not real physical in the run game at this point. When you become confused you become tentative.

"Then you factor in that you're always down, you're always throwing. This team never really gets to work on the running game. In run blocking, you have to fire off the ball. You have to be very, very aggressive. In pass blocking, it's more of a passive aggression. So when this team is constantly throwing, it's very hard to get back into that mindset that you need to fire off this ball on this particular play when they do actually run the ball. You need that toughness to run the football, and they never get to practice that in game situations.

"I know some people say; ‘you work on the run game during practice," but it's not the same thing as game speed. It's not even close."

Taylor says leadership is a very valuable thing for a young offensive lineman, and something he benefited greatly from. He credits former Irish great Tim Ryan for showing him the ropes when he arrived as a wide-eyed freshman over a decade ago.

"When I was a freshman I was behind Tim Ryan," he said. "He was about 270-280, but he was mean. That guy was tough. He taught me how to be tough….he and Joe Moore. It was something that was passed down from lineman to lineman. There just isn't a lot of guys to do that out there right now."

Toughness is also learned in practice, and Taylor says it's really hard to be a tough guy if you don't practice it in practice.

"We went through similar things in Green Bay," he said. "As the season wore on and people were banged up and it got cold, we didn't go at each other near as much as we did at the beginning of the year. You really need that physical contact in practice because it keeps your mind fresh at game speed. We'd really struggle finding that tempo early in games because we hadn't been practicing at that speed. It's a tough thing to do that all teams go through. We were professionals and had a hard time with it. I think it's something people have to learn, and since you're inexperienced across the board, that's hard to do."

The former Lombardi Award winner believes that the Irish might have problems completely fixing their offensive line woes this year.

"Charlie's in kind of a tough spot right now because he's trying to win games," he said. "You have to do that any way you can, and I'm not sure you can fix this stuff in a week, or if it can be fixed this year. I think you have to start the game and establish the run to begin with. It's much easier for an offensive lineman to go from the run to the pass because you've already geared up that aggressiveness with a solid running game. Unfortunately, Notre Dame gets down quickly, and it's hard to establish the run when you're behind and have to throw.

"One thing I have noticed is a lot of guys come free on run plays. There are a lot of guys coming that don't appear to be accounted for. I don't know their blocking schemes, and I don't have game film, so I can't really say what the problem might be, but I do notice that is happening more than it should. They need to fix that because it seems most guys get a block, but it seems there's often a guy unaccounted for and he usually makes the play."

Former Irish right guard Sean Milligan agreed with many of the comments Taylor made about this year's offensive line.

"I was at the game this weekend, and I watched the guys real close," Milligan said. "I hate to make comments from a TV copy, so I was glad I could see a live game. I just don't see any push up front. They're not winning their individual battles. There's really nowhere for any running back to go.

"They did pass block better in this game, and they did seem to have more fight than before. They have a long way to go from a technique standpoint. They'll do things right on one play, and then look bad on another. I just think it's a matter of being more consistent.

"They need to finish their blocks. They engage and look OK, but they just don't finish them as much as they should. They're also not getting to that second level linebacker enough, which tells me they're struggling coming off their double teams. That's why you don't see many running lanes for the backs to get through.

"I don't really know what the situation might be. Like I said, I'm not at practice, and I don't know their blocking schemes. They just don't seem to win their individual battles often, at least often enough."

Milligan agreed that winning individual battles usually comes down to toughness, that and proper technique.

"We used to go at in practice all the time," he said. "(Former Irish offensive line coach Steve) Addazio used to call it the ‘man period.' Either you win or you lose, and we'd go at it really hard once a week. If they thought we weren't doing it right, we'd go at it again. It was a pride thing. All the guys are around you and they're yelling. You didn't want to fail in front of your teammates. It really bred a toughness with the guys. I'd guess this team does it, most teams do, but I'm not at practice to really know what they do. I do think all teams need to do that to be an aggressive football team.

"I think another big factor is leadership. John Sullivan is a good guy, but he can't do it by himself. When I showed up, we had a bunch of left over Holtz guys. Those guys were tough. They showed us how to be tough. We had guys like Mike Gandy, John Merandi and Kurt Vollers. Those guys would constantly pull you aside and tell you what to do or get in your face.

"If you got beat on a play, they'd grab you by the facemask and they'd say ‘don't let that guy do that to you, you need to do this and kick his ass the next time he tries that.' They all got hardened by Joe Moore, and I wasn't anywhere near tough enough when I showed up. You don't realize how tough you have to be coming from high school. You push everyone around in high school. They taught me that."

"I also don't see that on the sidelines," Milligan added. "The team goes three-and-out and nobody is there making anyone accountable. I remember Jeff Faine used to come off the sidelines and he'd get into your face. He say; ‘you're embarrassing us out there. I'm not going to let you do that. I'm going to kick your ass if you don't play better.' And you played better because he would do it. He wasn't playing around."

"It's not that I think these guys are soft," Milligan continued. "I just think you need to be taught how to be a tough guy on the college level. I had those guys teach me, and I didn't know that before I started playing with those guys. These guys don't have anyone above them to teach them that. I know that coach Latina gets in their face. Sullivan told me that Latina is on his butt all the time, so I know he's getting after the players. I just think you need some older guys there who will make you accountable and teach you how to become a tough guy." Top Stories