The Offensive Line will be the linchpin in the 2009 Fighting Irish campaign. If the Offensive Line can get it together the probability of a great season is very high. If they don’t get it together the Irish could be staring down the barrel of 8-4 and which will leave the program in a "now what" scenario. This position group is comprised of five veteran starters with a ton of experience that are at a "now or never" crossroads in 2009. In all honesty I’m not too worried about those five guys, I really think they will come into their own in 2009 and be a good offensive line. Not great but good. What does worry me is that the 2’s and 3’s are virtual unknowns at this point and the degree to which those players are able to contribute will likely be the X factor for the offensive line and subsequently the 2009 Fighting Irish as a whole. Regardless of whether the 2’s and 3’s see time in relief or significant time due to an injured starter a few of these guys at a minimum have to be serviceable. By serviceable I mean they have to be able to fill in without a significant drop off in performance from the starters. Of note this does not take into account inbound Freshmen Guards Chris Watt and Alex Bullard or Tackle Zach Martin.
Listed below is the opening spring depth chart by position for the offensive line. Players with an * next to their class are eligible to apply for a 5th year after graduation. Players in Italics are either limited or out for the spring due to injury.
72 Paul Duncan (5th year) Duncan sat out last season with an injury and was just granted a 5th year by the university. He has a significant amount of experience and should be capable of holding down the fort on Clausen’s blind side.
77 Matt Romine (Junior*) Romine falls into the category of the unknown. He didn’t play as a freshman and saw very limited action as a sophomore. As a 3rd year player he should be on the cusp of realizing his potential here. Whether or not he gets there is still to be determined.
74 Sam Young (Senior) Young has three years as a starter under his belt, and arrived on campus with some extraordinary expectations as a five star recruit. In his senior year this team needs him to come into his own and I expect that he will.
73 Lane Clelland (Sophomore*) Clelland is another virtual unknown. He didn’t play as a freshman and should compete for time. He was originally recruited as a Left Tackle and I suspect he could potentially end up on either side.
75 Taylor Dever (Junior*) Ditto everything I wrote on Romine. Dever is the exact same scenario.
55 Eric Olson (Senior) Charlie Weis has described Olson as the heart of this unit. He plays his ass off and he has a high motor. The Irish need some more of these kids to follow in Olson’s footsteps. He’ll anchor this group in 2009.
76 Andrew Nuss (Junior*) Ditto everything I said about Romine and Dever with one exception. Weis actually mentioned Nuss by name in his presser a couple of days ago. The end of the quote was "we could play him in a game and there wouldn’t be a huge drop off in performance." That’s coach speak for "he’s a solid #2." The day I hear Weis say that about the #2 Tackles I’ll feel a lot better about the 2009 outlook as a whole.
59 Chris Stewart (Senior*) Stewart is the biggest kid on the team at 337 and with two years of eligibility left he could still develop into a full blown meat plow. I have a real soft spot for this kid and think he will be very good in 2009.
57 Mike Golic Jr. (Sophomore*) Golic didn’t play at all as a freshman and unfortunately the one image I currently have of him is new OL Coach Frank Verducci lambasting him for poor technique on a practice video last week. I’m not there every day but I’m guessing that Golic won’t be much of a factor in the 2009 depth chart.
78 Trevor Robinson (Sophomore) Robinson is a legitimate stud that played well last year as a true freshman. This kid is in the mold of Olson and will likely pick up where Olson left off in 2010. He’s out for the spring which has slowed the rumors that he might be moving to Left Tackle. If that happens I’ll be ecstatic, in that scenario I think the five best linemen would be on the field. Worst case Trevor will spell Olson and Stewart then pick up where Olson left off in 2010.
51 Dan Wenger (Senior*) Wenger filled in some in 2007 and started all of 2008. It’s funny how you can read one thing about a kid and have it sway your opinion as it really isn’t fair but Wenger falls into that category for me. There was a quote from Charlie in the ESPN piece last week where he referred to Wenger as a "training room guy". In my view of college football Weis essentially called him a "sally". It’s the same as being labeled a "sick bay commando" in the military. It’s not good. Let’s hope that was just Charlie trying to motivate Wenger and that it works. The Irish need Wenger to step up in 2009.
52 Braxton Cave (Sophomore) There seems to be some question as to whether or not Cave’s limited participation early last year cost him a year of eligibility or not. Regardless all arrows are pointing up on this kid and I expect he will at least push Wenger. He has all the makings of a solid Center and I suspect he’ll be just that before his career comes to an end at ND.
When I step back and look at this unit as a whole a few things jump out at me. The starters should be solid. Note the "should". I include Robinson in that group as he’s a known quantity that could/should start. Beyond that the only pseudo warm fuzzy in the rest of the group is Nuss and that is based on nothing more than a fleeting comment from Weis in a presser a few days ago. In short the 2’s and 3’s are a mystery. With three legit Guards (Olson, Stewart, Robinson) and Nuss thrown in that’s a solid 2 deep. I would even go so far as to add Cave in there backing up Wenger and say the two deep in the middle of the line is good. But beyond Young and Duncan the Tackles are virtual unknowns. If something happens to either of them during the course of the season there’s no telling how it is going to shake out. By all accounts new OL coach Frank "El Duche" Verducci is doing well with this group and I’m hoping for some nice surprises in there. I know it sounds ridiculous to say that a couple of backup Tackles might be the difference between a great season and another disappointment but that’s not too far from reality. If Romine, Clelland or Dever can step up then all might again be right with the world. I’m confident that with the starters in there the running game will improve enough to provide enough balance to keep defenses honest and allow Charlie’s offense to function as it is intended to in the passing game. If "El Duche" can get these up and comers serviceable then the possibilities could be limitless for the Irish in 2009.