From the Ashes - Part III

The Irish 101 Series concludes its look at the graduating class of 2011 with an examination of five juniors that are slated to provide depth as members of the second unit in 2009.

While three of the five juniors listed below are one injury (and thus, one play) away from emergency field duty, a greater overall goal for this group is to develop into viable starting options by the spring (if not season's end).

Click here for Part I.

And here for Part II.

Steve Paskorz (Fullback)

Current Situation: Paskorz is the squad's backup fullback behind senior (converted tailback) James Aldridge.

Single Aspect of His Game in Need of Immediate Improvement: Paskorz will rarely be asked to carry the rock. The junior's chief task will be to help improve the offense's unreliable short-yardage attack by honing his lead blocking skills. Should Paskorz be called upon in running (or pass-catching) situations this fall, fans can rest easily: he's an accomplished high school running back and premier athlete – not a lumbering (former) linebacker masquerading as a running back.

Eligibility: Through the 2011 season. Paskorz was withheld from game action as a freshman in 2007 to preserve a year of eligibility.

Expectations for Paskorz in '09: Improve as a lead blocker for the somewhat puzzling Irish kick return team – a unit that boasts far more potential than production; develop into a reliable lead blocker in the I and offset-I formations favored by Coach Weis in short-yardage situations; maintain ball security (an issue for his predecessor) when his number is called as an offensive option; and finally, develop a comfort level in all phases of the position that allows him to hold down a starting role in 2010 and 2011. Paskorz is the only fullback on the roster pending another position switch from within and a continued threat at the position (assuming Aldridge capably fills the role this season) would be a bonus for the Irish offense.

Matt Romine (Offensive Tackle)

Current Situation: The backup left tackle behind fifth-year senior Paul Duncan.

Single Aspect of His Game in Need of Immediate Improvement: Consistency. Romine was expected to pose a challenge for the starting left tackle role in Spring Ball but every indication from the coaching staff showed Paul Duncan won the role with relative ease.

Eligibility: Romine will have the opportunity to apply for a 5th season after the 2010 campaign as he appeared in just two early season games as a freshman in '07 (he was then held out of game action due to injury). His eligibility status for a potential 5th year is a bit more muddled than classmates who were completely withheld from game action in '07 (or '08).

Expectations for Romine in '09: Romine was lauded for his technique and leadership entering the program as a player that would have a leg up on his classmates as a solid technician and natural (left) tackle. Losing to a 5th year senior that (apparently) was the star of Spring Practice should not be seen as a major setback for the junior, as Romine, like Dever, truly is "one play away" from a role as the most important player on the football field – the guardian of Jimmy Clausen's blind side. Romine's goal for '09 should be simple: challenge Duncan for playing time in fall camp and throughout the season, and thus prepare to win the left tackle job outright in the spring.

Emeka Nwankwo (Defensive End)

Current Situation: Slated for backup duty at right defensive end. The depth chart lists Nwankwo between senior John Ryan and classmate Kerry Neal, but all signs point to Neal winning the job in fall camp.

Single Aspect of His Game in Need of Immediate Improvement: Nwankwo was an offensive lineman in high school and this is just his second season plugging, rather than opening holes at the line of scrimmage. With just over 12 minutes of playing time last season, Nwankwo must first prove he is capable of handling a competitive defensive series before progressing into a full-time threat.

Eligibility: Through the 2011 season. Nwankwo was held out of game action as a frosh in '07.

Expectations for Nwankwo in '09: Provide depth at defensive end and emerge as a reliable defender in obvious running situations. Both Neal and Ryan are a bit light for defensive line duty. Nwankwo could help provide an extra anchor on the edge vs. a power running game .

Taylor Dever (Offensive Tackle)

Current Situation: The backup to four-year starter Sam Young at right tackle.

Single Aspect of His Game in Need of Immediate Improvement: With just 16 minutes of sporadic game film available, a writer's opinion here would be criticism for the sake of criticism. The same holds true for Andrew Nuss (below). Dever will be called upon this season in the event Young is dinged or needs a breather. The junior tackle will have to be strong at the point of attack in short-yardage situations as the Irish would prefer to attack off the right side of their line (behind massive guard Chris Stewart) and Young. Dever will at some point be asked to fill that role as well.

Eligibility: Through the 2011 season. Dever was held out of game action as a freshman.

Expectations for Dever in '09: To develop into a legitimate starting right tackle by the end of Spring Practice 2010. That transformation begins in August and, most importantly, will be put to the test in spot duty in live game action this fall. The backup right tackle must be ready at a moment's notice so Dever's apprenticeship is officially over.

Andrew Nuss (Guard)

Current Situation: Backup left guard behind senior Eric Olsen. Nuss won't beat out Olsen in '09, and any injury to the senior leader would certainly open the door for backup right guard (and "sixth" O-Line starter) Trevor Robinson to enter the lineup.

Single Aspect of His Game in Need of Immediate Improvement: Nuss has less than 15 minutes of career playing time but he could endear himself to Irish fans (not to mention the coaching staff) if he develops the ability to block in space, especially on screen passes – a skill sorely lacking among the entire starting five last season.

Eligibility: Through the 2011 season. Nuss was held out of game action as a freshman.

Expectations for Nuss in '09: The Irish lose just one guard (Olsen) at season's end. Nuss must prove he's a capable starter – a player that can hold up over a 12-game season at the position as Trevor Robinson is slated for stardom in a guard role next year. However, the emergence of Nuss could create a "best players on the field" scenario in which case Robinson could be asked to move to a more difficult tackle role in 2010. Unlike Taylor Dever at right tackle, Nuss is probably not "one play away" as Robinson would move into the lineup with any injury or sign of ineffectiveness from a starter. Nuss can use the fall to work his way into a major role for 2010.

Overview

Dever and Romine will likely be called upon in emergency situations this fall. Both should practice though the jobs in front of them are available for the taking. Nwankwo could serve as a DE option in short-yardage situations. If Paskorz can establish a niche as a lead blocker he'll likely rank among the top 10 or 11 skill position players in terms of cumulative playing time at season's end. Nuss will look to make great strides in an effort to give the coaching staff something to think about after three O-Line starters (Duncan, Olsen, and Young) will have exhausted their eligibility after the '09 season.

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