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No more offensive offense

Joe Hettler | Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Besides quarterback, every position on Notre Dame’s offense will have battles for playing time this spring – and that’s good news for Bill Diedrick.Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator says the team’s depth should make the offense better in 2004.”The thing that competition creates is each person has to elevate their game,” Diedrick said. “Those that elevate continue to play and those that don’t kind of wash out. That’s the nice thing – finally having some depth and some competition because now you’re not locked into starting a guy just because he’s it by nature of being the only guy there.”Notre Dame loses starting lineman Jim Molinaro, tailback Julius Jones and receiver Omar Jenkins, but return every other offensive starter from last season’s 5-7 squad. Notre Dame’s offense averaged 336 yards and 20 points per game last season and took much of the criticism for the team’s poor performance throughout the year.But this season, the Irish seem optimistic that the offensive woes of the last few years will change for the better.”We feel like we have a sense of urgency this year,” rising junior receiver Maurice Stovall said. “We know we had a real bad season last year, not the type that Notre Dame should have. We just want to bring Notre Dame back on top and strive toward a national championship every year.”The players at spring practice this season have all had at least one year playing under Diedrick’s pro-style offense. Stovall said this experience will help the offense become more productive.”It is definitely important to have experience in the offense,” Stovall said. “There are lot of guys that feel more comfortable and a lot of guys that [know] their plays more. I think as a whole offense, we’re coming together.”The biggest concern for Notre Dame during spring practice last season was the offensive line. But this year, Diedrick said getting each individual player to perform better is the greatest obstacle for the offense.”Your concern is – especially when you have an experienced group – that everybody raises their game up a notch,” he said. “Through the off-season conditioning and the ability to come in and not only play better but play more consistent. With the experience across the board at all positions, what you’re looking at now … [are] roles where guys are going to fit in.”One of the biggest voids on offense this season could be replacing Jones, who rushed for 1,268 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2003 and had three 200-yard rushing games. Ryan Grant, who rushed for over 1,000 during his sophomore season, is the No. 1 back with rising junior Marcus Wilson and rising sophomore Travis Thomas close behind.Diedrick said replacing Jones will be difficult, but certainly not impossible.”Yes, you can replace Julius Jones,” Diedrick said. “You’ve got good competition back there. … You may not replace [Jones] with one guy, but you may replace him with a couple, and I don’t mind having it be by committee.”The Irish line should be improved from last year’s squad, which struggled early in the season before evolving into a solid unit. Center Bob Morton said the group is simply trying to improve during spring and come together.”It sounds easy sometimes [because] we are older,” Morton said. “We’ve come a long way from where we were but we have a long, long way to go.” Despite just two practices into spring ball, Diedrick said he’s excited about the possibilities of this season’s offense.”You’ve got experience at receivers, you’ve got experience at the tight end position, you’ve got experience at the offensive line and you’ve got experience at running back,” Diedrick said. “I’m very excited about that. We feel that is one of the pluses going in.”