Trimming the Fat

Though two familiar names are expected to re-earn starting roles, the 2010 Notre Dame Spring offensive line depth chart should see continual movement throughout April.

IrishEyes continues its preview of each player and the team's key position groups. Today's first edition: the veteran offensive linemen.

Wide Receivers Spring Preview: Wide Open

Tight Ends Spring Preview: In Good Hands

Running Backs Spring Preview: Crowded House

Cornerbacks Spring Preview: Under Siege

Safeties Spring Preview: Taking Applications

Outside Linebackers Spring Preview: Three-headed Monster

Inside Linebackers Spring Preview: Will Youth Be Served?

Defensive Ends Spring Preview: Securing the Edge

Nose Tackles Spring Preview: Big Dog and the Pups

Six returning offensive linemen earned monograms last season: 5th-year seniors Chris Stewart and Dan Wenger (both enter their final season of eligibility); senior Matt Romine (plausibly two seasons of eligibility remaining due to limited, early season playing time as a freshman); senior Andrew Nuss (three seasons remaining); junior Trevor Robinson (two seasons remaining); and junior Braxston Cave (likely three seasons remaining due to a medical redshirt option from his freshman season).

Sophomores-to-be Alex Bullard, Zach Martin, and Chris Watt each preserved a year of eligibility last season and have four remaining with the program.

Freshmen Matt James, Christian Lombard, and Tate Nichols are expected to join the unit next fall as could freshman Bruce Heggie.

Playing Time, 2009 – Offensive Linemen

  • Chris Stewart – 337:36 (65)
  • Trevor Robinson – 268:37 (44)
  • Dan Wenger – 115:58 (1)
  • Andrew Nuss – 29:56 (154)
  • Matt Romine – 32:56 (8)
  • Taylor Dever – 14:08 (6)
  • Mike Golic, Jr. – 7:13 (3)
  • Braxston Cave – 7:08 (110). Cave earned a letter as the team's short-snapper last season.
  • Lane Clelland – 6:38 (16). Clelland has been moved to Defensive End according to Brian Kelly.

On the Move – Trevor Robinson

Robinson has made 14 career starts since logging time as a true freshman in 2008. Last year, the Irish began 6-2 with Robinson manning the right guard spot, but the true sophomore suffered an ankle sprain during the Washington State contest and with Robinson sidelined or hobbled thereafter, Notre Dame's season hit the skids as the Irish lost to Navy with Robinson sidelined; dropped a game at Pittsburgh when Robinson reinjured his ankle in the second half; and lost a lead vs. Connecticut after a reoccurrence in the second half.

He was the key to the former regime's OL scheme as the player who least often received double-team assistance from a teammate.

We Have Questions: With the team's apparent depth located along the interior line, could Robinson move outside to hold down the fort at right tackle? Is his long-term future at guard or tackle? If Robinson remains at guards, will he be used more as a move blocker/pulling guard in the new scheme?

Hope Springs Eternal: Robinson, along with Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph, ranks as one of the three most reliable offensive players entering 2010. Each of the trio is a true junior with two seasons of eligibility remaining. Robinson will challenge for Notre Dame's coveted Guardian of the Year award regardless of his position along the line next season.

Spring Prediction: Robinson remains at right guard and easily wins the starting role…experimentation with a move to right tackle is discussed by the new staff throughout the summer heading into August camp.

Reshaped and Ready – Chris Stewart

A 22-game starter and three-year contributor over the course of his career, Stewart appears to have lost a great deal of weight in Paul Longo's strength and conditioning program.

The 5th-year senior is a respected leader and locker room voice, and a consistent Stewart would solidify the interior offensive line.

We Have Questions: Could Stewart, just an average drive blocker for a man his size in season's past, benefit from redistributed weight at the point of attack? How will hold up isolated in a spread blocking scheme vs. speed pass rushers?

Hope Springs Eternal: I felt Stewart showed great potential blocking in space up to the midpoint of last season, at least for a player of his size. A sleeker, quicker Stewart could shine in the team's new blocking scheme.

Spring Prediction: Stewart will win the left guard spot and remain there for his final season. He'll add the title of team captain next August.

Last Chance – Dan Wenger

Wenger was named to the pre-season Rimington Award Watch list last summer (the award is presented annually to the nation's best center at season's end), but had already lost his starting job to classmate Eric Olsen, who shifted over to left guard to shore up what had been spotty center play in 2008.

The 5th-year senior has started 26 games over the last three seasons, serving mainly as the team's fourth interior lineman last year. He earned a start at right guard vs. Navy due to Trevor Robinson's injury, but was withheld from action in the season's final two contests vs. Connecticut and at Stanford.

We Have Questions: Will Wenger back to center, and if so, can he win the starting center role over the more athletic Braxston Cave? Is Wenger best suited as a backup swing player along the interior? Never fleet-a-foot, how will Wenger fair in the new spread blocking scheme employed by offensive line coach Ed Warriner? Will Warriner impart the need to finish blocks, something that has eluded Wenger in past seasons? Is Wenger fully recovered from an arm injury suffered late last year?

Hope Springs Eternal: Wenger floundered in the former scheme: change is for the best for a player replaced entering his senior season. An experienced backup lineman is a luxury for a new coaching staff, especially one that has played in three of the five line positions.

Spring Prediction: The backup center role behind Braxston Cave.

Turk Part II? – Matt Romine

Romine appeared in eight games last season, including each of the last five as a backup left tackle. At 6'5" 295 (last year), the former high school All America enters his final season (though its not impossible he could apply for a medical redshirt from 2007 after playing vs. both Georgia Tech and at Michigan)

We Have Questions: Romine was singled out by Kerry Neal last August as the team's best pass blocker (due to his quick feet and hands): can he translate that skill set to the new spread scheme, one in which he'll often be isolated vs. the opponent's best edge rusher? Duncan and Stewart fared well last season in short yardage situation and on stretch running plays: can Romine hold up at the point as a run blocker? Can Romine follow the lead of former Irish left tackle Mike Turkovich, who, after a non-descript career, parlayed a final-season starting role into the team's Guardian of the Year Award in 2008?

Hope Springs Eternal: In need of a physical presence to improve the terrible rushing attack from 2008, Romine lost the starting job (handily, last spring) to 5th-year senior Paul Duncan. While Duncan did help the running game, especially over the first eight weeks, he struggled mightily against solid pass rushers from Week Two forward. Romine's strength is his ability to protect the quarterback's blind side.

Spring Prediction: The starting left tackle role.

Behind the Best – Andrew Nuss

The 6'5" 300-pound senior-to-be has yet to start a game in his Irish career, but he appeared in 11 of 12 contests (missing BC) last season after playing just two games in 2008. Nuss has two seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out his freshman season in '07.

We Have Questions: Nuss earned ample early-season playing time last year after a strong summer camp: could he push Robinson enough to allow the team's best offensive linemen to move to right tackle? Why was Nuss unable to earn the starting role over the struggling Wenger after Trevor Robinson's injury on October 31?

Hope Springs Eternal: Nuss, who showed the ability to block in space in limited action last year, was praised by both former head coach Charlie Weis and 2009 OL coach Frank Verducci entering last season. Weis continued to extol his effort through early October. There's a chance his skill set will translate better to the new scheme and he's unlikely to be overwhelmed with extended playing time after serving as a key member of the Irish special teams last year (154 appearances last season, the fifth-highest total on the squad).

Spring Prediction: The backup right guard role, but his strong showing will allow the staff to move Robinson to right tackle in the spring. Look for Nuss to push for the starting RG spot next fall.

Note: IrishEyes will preview the remaining six offensive linemen in a separate column.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories