Welcome back to Part 3 of this series.
Better or Worse: Wideouts & Tight End
*Rankings are from 1 (poor) to 10 (great).
2014 Offensive Line (Predictions from 5-2-14)
Here are some of my comments heading into last year with the big boys:
With another year of maturity out of the fantastic 2013 five-man haul I foresee greater depth and versatility than last year. All of Elmer, Bivin, and McGovern appear to be tackle/guard combo's which is great flexibility to have for a line that's not in desperate need of playing a bunch of young players. Add in two centers with starting experience, Hanratty adding another veteran body, and there's a lot to work with this fall.
Womp, womp. We could say a lot of things about the offensive line last year but the one most would agree on is that they underachieved. The depth and versatility didn't help to any major degree as injuries forced a mishmash at center between Martin and Hegarty, injuries eventually took down Hanratty and Lombard, plus Elmer struggled at tackle before moving to guard.
Stanley emerged as a star tackle very late and McGlinchey's bowl start added some rep to the 2013 class but the run game was fussy and the line gave up 28 sacks--by far the most of the Kelly era.
2015 Offensive Line
The line didn't meet expectations of a 8.1 level last year but can do a little better in 2015. At least they should as most expect, at minimum, a renewed focus on grinding things out on the ground with Zaire at quarterback. Sacks should definitely go down by a fair margin and there's more than enough optimism in the run game.
The first 3 categories have taken a little bit of a tumble. Hegarty and Lombard offered experience and the ability to play multiple positions, while Hanratty was a solid backup at worst. Heading into this fall some very impressive recruiting classes are maturing but there is virtually no experience and plenty of questions at every backup position. That's par for the course at most programs, though. So it's not an enormous knock on the depth chart as a whole.
For the last two categories it's difficult not to be impressed. A future 1st round pick and senior captain anchor the line at left tackle and center, respectively. Additionally, Steve Elmer was given the "changed player" tag which is annually given to a few guys each spring. If even half the optimism is met with Elmer that gives the Irish a sumptuous core of three experienced players.
I've written before about the hesitancy of predicting this line to be among the country's best due to the inexperience of McGlinchey and Nelson, however, if you're going to have players stepping up for the first time I suppose it helps to have some of the most physically imposing and strong youngsters in the country making that jump.