Will Solid Suffice?

IrishEyes' 9th-ranked unit entering August – the offensive line.

Note: Each position is ranked according to my view of the groups entering the 2010 season. I've accounted for 2009 performance, apparent spring improvement, 2010 developed depth, and my own projection for 2010 (with an emphasis on the starters) as the determining factors.

For our No. 1 rated position unit and an explanation of the rankings, click here.

No. 2 Wide Receivers

No. 3 Outside Linebackers

No. 4 Running Backs

No. 5 Field Goal Unit

No. 6 Defensive Line

No. 7 Return Teams

No. 8 Defensive Backs

Offensive Line

  • IrishEyes' 2010 Pre-Camp Rank: No. 9
  • 2009 Pre-Season Ranking: No. 10 (of 11)
  • 2009 Post-Season Ranking: No. 6 (of 11)
  • Highest ranking I can envision at season's end: 3
  • Lowest ranking I can envision at season's end: Approximately here, I feel the Irish OL will outperform this pre-season slotting, but with three unproven starters and 12 unproven competitors, it's hard to rank the group higher in July.

Pre-season National Acclaim: Phil Steele ranks 5th-year senior guard Chris Stewart as the nation's 8th-best at his position, with junior guard Trevor Robinson at No. 23 overall. Steele included backup center Dan Wenger as the 16th-best "draft eligible" center entering 2010.

Robinson is one of 75 players on the pre-season Lombardi Award Watch List (which is limited to down linemen, end-to-end, either on offense or defense, who set up no farther than 10 yards to the left or right of the ball, or linebackers who set up no farther than five yards deep from the line of scrimmage). Robinson is also one of 63 players on the pre-season Outland Trophy Watch List, presented annually to the nation's top interior linemen (offense or defense).

Position Coach: Ed Warinner - Has guided offensive linemen in the trenches or served as an offensive coordinator since 1992. Warinner has 26 years of collegiate experience, most recently at Kansas where he served as the team's associate head coach, offensive coordinator, and quarterbacks coach. Earned his stripes as an OL coach at Army, Air Force, Illinois, and Kansas. Saw both the Cadets and Falcons lose heartbreakers to the Irish in the late 90s and early years of the past decade.

Quote to Note: "We're not there yet, but we're moving in a position where we think we've got eight to 10 guys that we know can play winning football. What we want is five guys that can play championship football." – Head coach Brian Kelly following April's Blue Gold Game.

Presumed starters:

  • Left Tackle Zack Martin: The unit's surprise of the spring, the 6'4" 280-pound Martin was withheld from action last season but quickly passed assumed starter Matt Romine in the left tackle pecking order. Though the competition was reportedly won handily by Martin, expect the two to continue to battle for the Week One starting spot through late August.
  • Left Guard Chris Stewart: The team's heftiest player (6'5" 344 pounds) appeared to lose the equivalent of a small child worth of body fat in the off-season. In the process, Stewart easily held down the first-string left guard spot from the start of spring through the Blue Gold Game. Ranks second behind 5th-year senior Dan Wenger in career playing time among offensive linemen (626:11).
  • Center Braxston Cave: The 6'3" 309-pound Cave emerged as the team's apparent starting center early in spring ball and held down the role through the Blue Gold game. Cave saw action as a true freshman in the 2008 opener vs. San Diego State before sitting out the rest of the contests with a wrist injury. He appeared in every game last season as the team's field goal/PAT snapper and logged 7:08 playing time from scrimmage.
  • Right Guard/Tackle Trevor Robinson: The unit's best pro prospect, and before his Week Nine injury last season, its best overall player. At 6'5" 300 pounds, Robinson was evaluated at both the right guard position he manned most of last season and right tackle. Robinson has 22 games and 14 starts to his credit over his first two seasons and ranks third along the OL in career playing time (458:44).
  • Right Tackle/Guard Taylor Dever: The 6'5" 301-pound Dever enters his senior season with just 30:53 playing time (he was withheld from action as a true freshman in 2007). Look for Dever to be challenged for a starting role (perhaps by backup guard Andrew Nuss) should he lose the right tackle role to Trevor Robinson.

Competitors for a starting role:

  • Left Tackle Matt Romine: The 6'5" 298-pound senior enters August in the unenviable position of battling a first-year contributor, Zack Martin, for the starting left tackle spot. Romine, who appeared in two of the team's first three contests as a true freshman in 2007, has appeared in just 13 games since without a start, due largely to injury and inconsistency following his recovery. Romine, who can apply for a 5th-season of eligibility at season's end, has totaled 67:26 of playing time over the last three seasons.
  • Guard Andrew Nuss: Made 154 special teams appearances last season to rank first among all offensive linemen and fifth on the team. The 6'5" 303-pound Nuss logged nearly 30 minutes of time from scrimmage as a backup guard.
  • Center Dan Wenger: Leads all returning O-Linemen in career minutes played (648:18). The 6'4" 297-pound 5th-year senior appeared in eight games last season, starting vs. Navy in place of injured guard Trevor Robinson. Wenger has started 18 games over the last three seasons, 15 at center.
  • Guard Chris Watt: The 6'3" 313-pound guard was also evaluated at center near the conclusion of spring ball. Watt did not play last year as a true freshman. Watt could enter a three-way battle for the starting right guard spot if incumbent Trevor Robinson is deemed the team's best option at right tackle.

Veteran Depth:

  • Right Tackle Alex Bullard: Was withheld from action last season along with classmates Chris Watt and Zack Martin. The 6'3" 290-pound tackle prospect switched to guard this past spring. Look for Bullard, who was excused from tail end of spring practice to deal with a family issue, to come on strong and challenge for a two-deep role by the end of August.
  • Center Mike Golic, Jr.: I'm not convinced the 6'3" 283-pound redshirt-junior center is far behind Wenger for the backup center spot. Golic sat out the 2008 season and played just 7:13 last year with three special teams appearances.
  • Tackle Lane Clelland: Moved briefly to defensive end during the spring, then finished back on the offensive side of scrimmage to lend depth at offensive tackle. The 6'5" 290-pund Clelland also dressed last season as a tight end (wearing No. 96) vs. Washington State and filled the third tight end role in Notre Dame's Jumbo Package near the goal line in late November.

Incoming Depth: 6'7" 291-pound tackle Tate Nichols – Scout.com's No. 70-ranked OT has put on about 50 pounds in the last calendar year. Nichols played tight end as a high school junior. "The weight I put on was not bad weight, which was really fortunate," Nichols told IrishEyes' Jeff Baumhower in the spring. "I've been working with a nutritionist, so I put it all on safely and healthy. It's not like I blew up and can't move. I feel that I can move just a good now as I did when I was 250-pounds."

6'5" 293-pound guard Christian Lombard – Scout.com's No. 2 offensive guard prospect hopes to compete for playing time from the outset.

"You can't go in there thinking you're going to get red-shirted, because what's the point?" Lombard to Jeff Baumhower. "You have to be competitive from day one and I think that's what I'm going to have and what I'm going to bring to the team."

Click here for Part II.

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