Team Preview: Offensive Line

The Notre Dame offensive line used to the pride of Irish fans every season. Loyal fans knew that when push came to shove, the Notre Dame front five were going to win most battles. That hasn't been the case for quite some time with recent line play, but better days are on the horizon.

Everyone knows the numbers from last year….58 sacks, 75 yards rushing per game, ranked 119th in total offense, just 16 points per game. The numbers don't lie, and Notre Dame won't win many games this year, either, if they don't improve dramatically.

The good news is this unit will be experienced, unlike last year. This unit should be physically strong enough to play, unlike last year. This unit should know the proper techniques by now. In other words, there are no excuses for poor performance this year. This group now has the talent, experience and strength to compete with anyone on the schedule. The question is, will they?

The Rotation

There appears to be four definite starters in this group-senior offensive tackle Paul Duncan, junior offensive tackle Sam Young, junior center Dan Wenger, and junior offensive guard Eric Olsen. These four appear to have nailed down their starting spots, but I'm sure anything is open to change this falls.

Duncan appears to be the guy at left tackle. He's probably the most athletic linemen out of the tackles, but he hasn't been highly successful in pass blocking at the position. He also didn't have the best day in the spring game in the same situation. This is an area of concern for the Irish. Duncan will have to play much better than he did last season for the Irish to turn their offensive woes around, but that can be said for all the offensive linemen. We single out Duncan because he'll likely be going against the best pass rushers any team has to offer, so his play will be vital to Notre Dame's success in the passing game.

The interior looks to be very solid, especially against the run. Wenger (center) and Olsen (right guard) have instilled a "nastiness" to the offensive line that has been missing for quite some time. Behind these two, and the other starter at left guard, the Irish should have a solid foundation for the running game this season. The Irish should be able to pound the ball inside with good success against most teams they'll face this season.

Sam Young appears to be in line for a great season for Notre Dame. He's been moved back to his natural right tackle position, and he should be fully healthy heading into this season. Notre Dame running backs should be able to find some daylight behind the tandem of Olsen and Young all season. Once again, pass blocking is a concern with Young.

At the left guard spot, we've seen both senior Michael Turkovich and junior Chris Stewart rotating. Both players give the Irish a presence in the run game, but neither would be considered a good pass blocker at this point. Turkovich shows great effort most of the time, and could be in line for an impressive senior season. With Stewart, it will likely come down to his weight. If he can start the season around 330, he also could have an impressive season for the Irish. Turkovich has also played some tackle, so he can move to that position in a pinch, as has Stewart.

Those six players give the Irish a solid foundation, but another tackle will have to develop to give both Duncan and Sam Young a rest now and again. The Irish have two talented candidates in sophomores Taylor Dever and Matt Romine. Romine has been banged up a bit, so he may not be 100 percent by the season, but we've heard Dever has been impressive in his short career at Notre Dame. Dever is considered more of a right tackle, however, and it remains to be seen if he can handle the speed rushers than Duncan will face day in and day out at left tackle. Romine is considered the more athletic of the two, but we're not sure how physically ready he'll be for the start of the season after suffering an injury at the end of the spring.

One of Romine and Dever should see a lot of action, and it would be a good sign if both did early in the season.

The Depth

Senior Thomas Bemender (you're the man) is a quality backup for Wenger at center. He's definitely a guy who will stick his nose into any confrontation. Sophomore guard Andrew Nuss is just learning the position after spending last season on the defensive side of the football. Senior walk-on Jeff Tisak is a tackle prospect that could help if called upon. He's listed at 6-foot-5 and over 300 pounds.

The Freshmen

As you can see, there aren't a lot of bodies at offensive line currently. Turkovich and Duncan are in their final years of eligibility. Young and Olsen will have just one year of eligibility after this season. Talent and numbers were needed in this freshman class, and they did sign both.

Offensive guard Trevor Robinson enrolled early this past winter and worked out with the team all spring—that will definitely help his progress. At 6-foot-5, 305 pounds already, Robinson has the size to play early. He does need to redistribute some of that weight, but he's a powerful young man with vast potential. The combination of Robinson, Wenger, Stewart and Olsen should give the Irish some impressive interior O-line play in the future.

Lane Clelland is another prospect with much potential. He's a little on the light side, listed at 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, but he's light on his feet and is considered a good offensive tackle prospect. Can he play left tackle? That's the most important question because the Irish continue to lack what many would consider a true left tackle—someone quick enough to stay with the best pass rushers from the opposition.

Braxston Cave should also give the Irish another impressive presence inside at his projected offensive center position. Cave is a wide body already, listed at 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, and he's a very strong player for his age. Cave appears to be next in line behind Wenger at center.

Mike Golic, Jr. is going to surprise people when it's all said and done. He'll definitely earn his scholarship as a long-snapper for the Irish, and should see the field from game one. But, Golic has a nasty streak in him, is well-coached, and has something to prove. Golic has two obstacles to overcome. He's undersized and he hasn't played the best competition up to date. After watching him against the best competition in the Army All-American game, I was quite impressed with his technique and effort. If Golic can gain the necessary size and strength, I think he'll surprise a lot of people with his play on the field.

Notre Dame is loaded with talent at offensive line currently. They have both quality talent and depth at every single position but left tackle. That makes the signing of 2009 prospect Xavier Nixon all the more important. Combining Nixon with the three other impressive O-line commits in this 2009 class would put the Irish in an outstanding position for some dominant offensive line play in the future. Irish fans could be in line for some more "good ol' days" in the very near future. Top Stories