Wednesday, December 19, 2007

2007 Review: Offensive Line

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am not someone who is overly negative and critical when writing about the Irish. I generally try to look at things from a glass half full perspective and find the positives. As I prepared to write this review of the Irish O Line from 2007, I was really dreading it. There is a time to be positive, and then there is a time to just be brutally honest. And the brutally honest truth is that this O Line was awful this year. You can attach many different adjectives to this group, from young and inexperienced to deficient and terrible. I firmly believe that the fate of the the Irish team in 2008 rests in large measure on how much improvement the O Line can make. I stand by my belief that the Irish need a solid running game in order to be successful with their schedule. They cannot win as a one-dimensional team against the teams they play.

First and foremost, this group was unprepared to do battle against the type of competition ND faces year in and year out. Encompassed within this, the coaching staff led by Charlie made a much discussed terrible mistake by not hitting more in spring and fall camp. The guys comprising this line are by and large easy going guys by nature and the lack of contact made them soft. When the bullets started flying as the season began, they were caught on their heels and unprepared. The coaching staff takes a big hit for this one.

Second, this group did not work nearly hard enough -- they didn't work hard enough to develop chemistry and they didn't work hard enough in their playbook. That is on the players. When the coaching staff has to basically cut the offensive playbook down to the bare bones because the O Line cannot handle more than the simplest of blocking schemes, the blame does not fall solely on the coaches. As an athlete on a full scholarship, you need to do a better job than that. Also, from a chemistry standpoint, this group was a disaster. More than any other position group in football, O Line requires chemistry. You have to be brothers out there. Whether you are friends off the field or not, you have to be brothers on the field and watch each others' backs. I did not see that at all this year. I saw a whole bunch of guys looking to take care of their responsibility and if someone else got beat, then oh well, at least they did their job. That mentality doesn't work on the O Line. I believe this was largely a failure of leadership from the older guy(s) on the line, but everyone played a role in that. Where this was clearly evident was in the lack of communication along the line. If you review the film, you will see that when ND's O linemen just had 1 guy to block as individuals, they were reasonably successful. However, when the play design or development called for a combo block or linemen to adjust and work together, they flat out failed more often than not.

Third, and this is quite honestly what bothered me most of all, this group was soft and they were passive. They lacked emotion, they lacked passion. Going into the season, I knew this line was young and inexperienced. When you have a young line, you expect that there will be mistakes, blown assignments, etc. What you also expect is that those guys will be so hungry to be on the field for the first time that those mistakes will be made going 100 MPH. I didn't see that. I didn't see guys looking to hit somebody, anybody down the field or after a missed assignment. I didn't see guys running downfield after a rare big play. I saw a bunch of big guys get pushed around by other teams and instead of fighting back, they walked away. I saw a fiery young QB get drilled with a cheap shot and multiple linemen simply turn around and head back to the huddle. I can deal with a young line that misses assignments and experiences growing pains. What I fail to comprehend and will not accept from this season is a line that simply accepted getting beaten up and watching their teammates get beaten up.

Now, I want to take a look at a few individuals:

Sam Young: Sam has a ton of talent, probably most out of anyone on ND's line. Is he a prototypical LT? No, but how many schools have a prototypical LT? That's why guys like Joe Thomas last year and Jake Long this year get picked in the top 5 of the draft. Sam can be successful at either tackle position. Sam also took a fantastic step forward by going to Charlie and asking how he can be more of a leader. However, words aren't enough. You know what I think Charlie told him? You need to bring it every play of every game. Right now, Sam is inconsistent with his effort from what I see. In my view, he has suffered from not having a veteran offensive lineman on the roster to show him just how hard you have to work every single day in practice and just how hard you have to go every single play. Guys aren't born knowing that stuff.

Mike Turkovich: By contrast, I have no complaints with Mike's effort, but he needs to develop his awareness. He is one of those guys I referred to above where 1 on 1, he is flat nasty, but when guys stunt or come from a different spot than he was expecting, he really struggles.

John Sullivan: I will keep my comments to a minimum here. He had a fine career at ND, but there are times where it is best for the player and the team that a guy moves on.

Dan Wenger: In order for the Irish line to improve, it is going to take leadership and and an attitude change. I would look to Wenger to be a key component to the turnaround. He is an average guard, but he looked really good at center. With the eligibility he has remaining, he is a guy that can grow and develop with the line. He has the attitude you need. Someone at some point has to take ownership of the group and has to view himself as its leader. By take ownership, I mean hold himself accountable not only for his own performance, but hold others accountable for theirs as well and not be afraid to tell a teammate he needs to raise his level of play. To do that, though, you better be darn solid in your own play and you better be a guy that others see gives 110% every play or guys will see right through you. Jeff Faine could do that because his effort was superb every down and guys saw that. Dan has that in him. He must remain healthy, as he has battled injuries throughout his short career.

Eric Olsen: While he is not as naturally talented as some of the others, he can play for me anytime. He brings it every play. He was not ready to play this year and made a lot of mistakes, but his play is what I expected from the entire line this year -- making young and inexperienced mistakes, but playing so hard that you have to respect him.

Paul Duncan: He played out of position at LT at the beginning of the year and it really showed. I wish he played with more of an edge, because he does have some ability and he has size. I am not sure he is a starting tackle on a top 10 team, however.

Chris Stewart: You just have to smile when you think about this kid. I can't help it. Before he left campus briefly, Chris was lost. Having been shuffled from O line to NG and back to O line in under a year, he was sinking. When he came back, Charlie noted that he had a different attitude and a much greater commitment. It showed. Chris is overmatched right now in pass protection, but man does he go hard every play and he can be devastating as a run blocker. I do not believe his future is at tackle, that move was made out of necessity. Chris' future is up to him. He really can be as good as he wants to be.

The Irish will need the current starters to take dramatic steps forward in strength, understanding, and attitude. They will also need at least 2 from the group of Matt Romine, Taylor Dever, and Andrew Nuss to step forward and be able to give them solid minutes. Increased depth is on the way with the current recruits. I am really curious as to readers' comments on the O line.


Anonymous said...

When I saw Sullivan laughing on the bench in the game where he sailed numerous snaps over Clausen's head, changes had to come. That guy was not the edgy tough leader you want. It sounds like he used his seniority to brow beat everyone around him. Thats not leadership.

I think the line will improve with that omission.

IrishGlory said...

Anonymous - I don't disagree that there will be some addition by subtraction next year.

NYmouth said...

I deplore the double negative.

WeisGipper said...

Nice read, IG!