Player Observations: Part III

IrishEyes wraps-up its player observations with thoughts on the team's offensive linemen and specialists.

This is the third set of player observations, click here for Part I and a review of the Irish offensive contributors; and for a look at the defense, begin here.

Offensive Line Starters

  • Eric Olsen: Solidified the entire unit with his off-season move from guard to center…played three consecutive strong games to start the season as the offensive line gelled vs. Nevada, UM, and MSU…strong leader and voice of the team but more importantly, showed up each week (with the odd mental exception of the contest vs. WSU) and executed his assignments…the top graduating senior that the Irish could use back for 2010, but Olsen has exhausted his eligibility after playing 20:45 over an 8-game span as a freshman backup.
  • Trevor Robinson: Performed well in what head coach Charlie Weis mentioned was the position most often isolated (in one-on-one situations) as a true sophomore…like Olsen, was tremendous over the first three weeks but Robinson had trouble vs. Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan when the pass rusher moved inside…bounced back vs. Washington but then struggled a bit for three halves vs. USC and BC before responding with a strong 2nd half effort against the Eagles…injury suffered against Washington State proved to be a death knell for the Irish running game in November…the key returning player for the 2010 offensive line.
  • Chris Stewart: The most important 5th-year senior option for the 2010 Irish, Stewart graduated last May and shared the team's Rockne Student-Athlete award this season with Mike Anello…improved greatly as a pulling guard as the season progressed and as a screen blocker from last season…still showed the occasional mental lapse in pass protection…the key player among the front five on the team's QB sneak plays as Clausen generally followed surges from Stewart and Olsen, and the down block of Paul Duncan over the left side.
  • Sam Young: Set program record with 50 starts and was a bowl game shy of tying Oliver Gibson (1990-94) for most games played in an Irish uniform…crucial penalties incurred vs. Michigan (a terrible call) and MSU (an inexcusable mental error late) were out of character for a four-year starter…struggled mightily at times vs. both Purdue and USC but bounced back in the second half of both contests…might have played his best overall game of the season vs. Boston College (I had him for one missed block)…tailed off in November during and after the inexcusable loss to Navy...appeared to generally have the toughest assignment to execute among the entire offensive front (hard to judge as someone that's never coached O-Line, but Young had the fewest "head-up" blocking assignment in the Irish running game).
  • Paul Duncan: Improved tremendously as a run blocker on the left side after sitting out the 2008 season…struggled in pass protection especially as the season progressed…was often shoved backward by speed rushers due to poor footwork in his drops…dominated opponents at times as a down blocker and lead blocker for what was a successful Irish ground game over the first eight games…pass protection issues resurfaced in the decisive four-game losing streak of November…has exhausted his eligibility and graduated last year from the Mendoza College of Business.

Offensive Line Contributors

  • Dan Wenger: Entered the season as the team's "sixth-starter" along the offensive line…often spelled left guard Chris Stewart for a series or two in the first half, especially in the season's first two months…started against Navy in place of injured right guard Trevor Robinson…crucial chop-block error at Pittsburgh greatly damaged Notre Dame's last chance at a miracle comeback…can apply for a 5th-year of eligibility and would challenge for a starting role at his former position (center)…will need to play with the sense of urgency shown by Olsen, Stewart, and Robinson this season if the Irish are to avoid a drop-off on the interior next year.
  • Andrew Nuss: Won early-season playing time after impressing Weis and line coach Frank Verducci in August…playing time tailed off over the next seven weeks as the Irish interior played at a high level…forced back into action against UConn as Robinson re-injured his ankle and Wenger apparently missed the week of practice due to illness…will challenge for a starting role next season as the line is inevitably shuffled to make up for the loss of Young, Duncan, and Olsen (and possibly Stewart and/or Wenger).
  • Matt Romine: Junior tackle saw increased playing time in the team's "Jumbo" packages late in the season…mentioned by Irish defenders as one of the team's best in pure pass protection and should give the Irish a boost in that aspect at left tackle next year…will need to become more consistent as a run blocker as the maligned Duncan performed well in that role this year…can likely apply for a 5th-season of eligibility after playing sparingly as a freshman in two September contests.
  • Lane Clelland: Sophomore earned playing time at as an eligible tight end (was basically a sixth OL) late in the season when both Bobby Burger and Kyle Rudolph suffered injuries…called for holding on fake field goal touchdown vs. Boston College…played in five games including four of last five (did not see action vs. Pittsburgh)…has three seasons of eligibility remaining.
  • Taylor Dever: Junior should challenge for starting right tackle role in the spring…joined the Irish Jumbo package in November and threw a key seal block on a 6-yard gain for classmate Robert Hughes vs. UConn…saw action in six games including the final five…has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
  • Braxston Cave: Played in all 12 games as the team's short-snapper and served on the punt coverage unit, recovering a fumble at Stanford to set up Notre Dame's first touchdown…saw action from scrimmage vs. Nevada and Washington State…lauded for his off-season bench press (520 pounds) and appeared to be inline for playing time but was beaten out by set of upperclassmen on the interior and classmate Trevor Robinson…could challenge for a starting role in the spring…only a sophomore, and can apply for a medical redshirt for the 2012 season.
  • Mike Golic, JR.: Will likely battle potential 5th-Year senior Dan Wenger for the starting center spot in spring practice…played in three games (Nevada, Boston College, and Washington State)…has three seasons of eligibility remaining.


  • Nicholas Tausch: 14-17 overall and 14 consecutive field goals made as a true freshman? As his former coach used to say, "sign me up"…consecutive pre-game warm-up injuries were a bit puzzling to scribes, fans, and his and head coach…has a bright future as a mid-range kicker at the school if he can remain confident, consistent in his approach.
  • David Ruffer: Produced one of the most clutch, underrated kicking efforts in team history as the former inter-hall star drilled each of his five field goals at Pittsburgh, vs. UConn on Senior Day, and at Stanford…pressed into emergency action after pre-game warm-up injuries to Tausch vs. Pitt and UConn…retained the starting role vs. Stanford…produced both of the team's touchbacks on kickoffs this season but also kicked two balls out of bounds (which placed the ball at he opponents' 40-yard line), a tendency noted by special teams coordinator Brian Polian in August.
  • Eric Maust: Earned starting role and scholarship in August when he out-kicked scholarship freshman Ben Turk through fall camp…performed well in the season opener dropping two offerings inside the 20-yard line but struggled in road games with crucial shanked punts at Michigan and Purdue before ceding his spot to Turk…won his job back entering the Navy contest (the Irish did not punt in the loss) then damaged Notre Dame's field position throughout the contest at Pittsburgh before losing out to Turk again for the final two contests…a much better punter at Notre Dame Stadium than on the road over the course of the season…served as the Irish holder and threw a tremendous pass (under the circumstances) to classmate Robby Parris on a fake field goal attempt for a 25-yard gain to set up Notre Dame's first touchdown vs. USC…can apply for a 5th-year of eligibility.
  • Ben Turk: Won the starting role over Maust entering the Washington contest and served as the Irish punter vs. the Huskies, Trojans, Eagles, and Cougars…replaced again by Maust for the game vs. Navy and at Pittsburgh but won the job back vs. UConn and to finish the season at Stanford…averaged 45 yards per punt on eight attempts over his final two games after struggling mightily in the BC and WSU contests…the true freshman has three seasons of eligibility remaining.
  • Jordan Cowart: True freshman served as the team's long-snapper in each of its 12 contests…the first scholarship long-snapper in program history…solid all season with the exception of a ridiculous penalty for kick catching interference vs. USC.
  • Mike Anello: Finished second on the squad with eight special teams tackles…not the dominant gunner he was in 2008 but received the bulk of the attention from opponents game-planning against him after he routinely destroyed opponents' field position last year…shared the Rockne Student-Athlete Award with offensive tackle Chris Stewart…former walk-on has exhausted his eligibility as a 5th-Year senior.

Note: For reviews of KRs Theo Riddick and Barry Gallup, Jr., as well as PR Golden Tate, please see Part I linked at the top of the page. Top Stories