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Football: Veteran offensive line looks for improvement

Michael Bryan | Sunday, August 30, 2009

Statistics and recent success have shown that offensive line experience is one of, if not the, most important factors in determining a team’s success. Assuming that strong trend holds true, the Irish should be in for quite a season.

The Notre Dame offensive line returns with the experience of 100 career starts, tied for tops in the nation with Virginia Tech. With an abundance of returning starters and veterans and a new offensive line coach in Frank Verducci, optimism abounds for a unit that significantly improved last year following one of the worst performances in school history in 2007.

While four starters from last year’s line return, there were still some shuffling and position battles over the offseason. The biggest change was the switch of senior Eric Olsen from guard to center, where he takes the place of classmate Dan Wenger.

“Danny [Wenger] was hurt a lot in the spring last year. We started experimenting with [the switch] last spring because he was on the shelf a good part of the spring,” head coach Charlie Weis said. “I think we intend to play the best five guys.”

Replacing departed senior Mike Turkovich at left tackle is fifth-year senior Paul Duncan, who missed the entirety of 2008 after surgery on his right hip. Duncan started every game for the Irish in 2007.

Moving into a permanent starting role in Olsen’s vacated spot at right guard is sophomore Trevor Robinson. Weis said he was impressed with Robinson’s work as a freshman and recovering from a shoulder injury last year.

“I think with our scheme, the guy who gets isolated a whole bunch of times is the right guard,” Weis said. “I think we believe that he’s a guy that could athletically be in that position to give us the best chance to be successful.”

Returning at the left guard and right tackle positions for the Irish are seniors Chris Stewart and Sam Young. The 650-pound tandem returns additional power and leadership to an offensive line that already has strength in both areas.

Wenger’s absence from the starting role doesn’t spell the end of the senior’s contributions for the Irish, but rather should add depth and stamina to this year’s unit.

Weis also mentioned receiving positive contributions from many rotation players in the two deep, specifically junior Matt Romine, who has pushed Duncan for time at left tackle.

“This is the first time we’ve had this many guys on scholarship on the offensive line,” Weis said. “To have 15 guys on scholarship has put a little different light to it. This is going to be the first time we’re going to start with three units who legitimately play left and right tackle, left and right guard and center.”

Leading the veteran group is the new offensive line coach Verducci, who replaced John Latina in the winter. Verducci has over 27 years of coaching experience at both the NFL and collegiate levels, most recently with the Cleveland Browns.

“Frank provides an excellent background on both the offensive line and run game in general from two perspectives, having coached several years in professional football and at the Division I level – predominantly in the Big Ten,” Weis said on Verducci’s hiring in January. “His experience will be an asset both to our players and our staff.”