Center of Attention
Chris Federico | Friday, August 29, 2003
If there’s one thing offensive lines are remembered for, it’s consistency.
Often, the five big guys up front don’t receive credit for their team’s offensive prowess or prolific scoring ability, but they’re down in the trenches play-in and play-out, pushing forward on every down.
For the Irish, center Jeff Faine was a model of consistency, starting nearly every game and playing almost every down for the Irish for three years.
But this year, Faine is gone, after being drafted in the first round last April by the Cleveland Browns.
So how does Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham plan on replacing the Irish anchor up front? With more consistency, of course.
“[Our centers] have done some very good things, but there’s still some things they need to improve on,” Willingham said. “It’s that constant going back and forth. Hopefully, we’re closing in on being consistent, and that’s the word we use with them all the time. We love the good things that they do, but we need consistency with them.”
The closest position battle of fall practice has been for that center spot along a mostly revamped Irish offensive line. Junior Zach Giles emerged from spring practice as the slight favorite, but redshirt freshman Bob Morton has given him some solid competition as the pair seem to be neck-and-neck near week’s end.
“We’re still battling through it, but both guys are doing fine,” offensive line coach John McDonell said. “We’re making progress every day. We’ll probably solidify that spot after the weekend and get ready for the game [with Washington State].”
As of right now, there no starter has been named at center, but it seems McDonell would like to name one sometime near the beginning of next week.
“I would think that we would have a pretty good idea,” he said. “Unless after these next few scrimmages that we feel it’s too close to call, but I think going into game week we have a good idea of where we want to be [with a starter].”
After Thursday’s intra-squad scrimmage, Morton felt good about the progress that Giles and he have made.
“Today was a big day for both of us,” Morton said. “You can’t really speak until you’ve seen the film, but it was an exciting day. The chemistry with the offensive line has gotten better for both of us, and whoever it is, we feel we can be successful next week.”
So far, McDonell has been impressed with the progress of both Giles and Morton and likes the way the two have pushed each other in practice.
“I think both of them have great strengths, and I feel very good about how far they’ve come,” McDonell said. “Zach [Giles] brings great strength at the point of attack, and he works very hard. Bobby [Morton] is a great technician, and also works very hard, so both are doing fine.
“What’s been impressive is they’re both helping each other out too, so it’s made it a real good environment to coach.”
No matter who handles the starting duties come the season opener against the Cougars, both Giles and Morton can be pretty sure that he’ll have some big shoes to fill with the departed Faine.
“When any starter leaves and someone has to step in, you’re going to feel pressure,” Morton said. “Because Jeff [Faine] was a three-year starter and was as good as he was, that can add to it.”
But the young Morton maintains that he can’t try to become Faine over the next few years, and that whoever takes on the starting job has to grow into himself as a player.
“I don’t feel too much extra pressure because I know I can’t be Jeff Faine,” he said. “I can only be Bob Morton. As corny as it may sound, we’ll see how good I can be over the next couple of years as they develop. But I feel it really was a good thing that I got the chance to stand behind Faine, because if you learn from the best, you can be the best.”