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Mike Turkovich: Turkovich eases into left tackle position

Jay Fitzpatrick | Friday, November 21, 2008

Editor’s note: this story originally ran on Sept. 26, 2008.

So far this season, Notre Dame’s offensive line has given up three sacks, which is as many as it surrendered in the first quarter of last season. On major part of that is the personnel changes made in the trenches, especially at left tackle.

Senior Mike Turkovich took over the duty of protecting quarterback Jimmy Clausen’s blind side this season, replacing senior Paul Duncan.

Turkovich played all of last season, starting every game at left guard, before making the transition in the spring. He said the transition was a result of the rotation the offensive linemen did during training camp to find the best fit.

“In the spring, we were rotating guys around and [offensive line] coach [John Latina] said, ‘Could you go in at left tackle today?’ And I was working with [the backups] because I was getting back in the rotation [after] an injury,” Turkovich said.

Turkovich said he felt comfortable with the switch to the outside of the line right away.

“I thought, ‘Hey, this is your chance. Just play with reckless abandon.’ You can’t be thinking out there. Just do your job and do it fundamentally sound,” he said.

Latina said that the transition from guard to tackle is a more difficult one than from tackle to guard because you are more isolated and facing a different kind of rusher. Playing in what the coach called “a phone book amount of space,” a guard is generally matched up against a large defensive tackle. But an offensive tackle has to block speedier defensive ends and linebackers one-on-one.

One main reason Turkovich has been able to transition so easily is because he has played the position before. His first two years at Notre Dame were spent as a tackle before he moved inside last season. Turkovich said he made the switch to guard because Latina said it would be his best fit.

Turkovich also played tackle in high school, but started his football career as a tight end.

“In high school I was a tight end that ate himself into the tackle position,” he said. “I weighed 215, 210 my junior year of high school, bulked up my senior year.”

Turkovich also credited his teammates with easing his transition back to tackle, especially left guard Eric Olsen.

“When you play next to a guy like Eric [Olsen], he’s a good player and he makes it easier on you. You know he’s going to do his job,” Turkovich said. “You can trust him. Same thing with tight ends, you can trust them. It’s made the transition easier.”

This season, Turkovich has been a solid performer on the line, as evident by the fact that Clausen has yet to be hit from his blind side. And during last week’s 23-7 loss to Michigan State when the line surrendered its only three sacks of the season, the Spartans blitzed when the Irish were in empty backfield formations, putting the offensive line at a disadvantage.

Turkovich said the offensive line is better than it was last season, but still has room for improvement – especially after netting only 16 yards rushing against the Spartans.

“We can get better as far as the run game and get better with our fundamentals,” he said. “… Last game they were getting pressure and getting sacks and we can’t win if that happens.”

But even with the line’s marked improvement this season, something Turkovich has been a major part of, he remains his own harshest critic.

“Even if I make a block on a play, I’ll still [thinking] I could have done better,” the senior said. “I think that I’ve done good things, but there’s definitely room for improvement still.”

Turkovich said the most important thing for him this year is to make sure he leaves Notre Dame on a high note. After last season’s debacle for the linemen, he wants to make sure his last days in an Irish uniform are his best.

“[There was] definitely was a sense of urgency [this season]. I said to my family, ‘This is my last year, I have to make an impression. I have to go out there and play my hardest because if you don’t go out there and you don’t play, it’s going to be the end of your career,'” he said.