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Football: Olsen confident about move to center

Sam Werner | Thursday, September 3, 2009

Heading into the 2009 season, college football analyst Phil Steele tabbed Eric Olsen as the 25th best offensive guard in the country. Too bad Olsen will be lining up at center for the Irish.

No, this wasn’t an oversight on Steele’s part. After three years and 19 career starts at left guard, Olsen will move one spot to the right this season.

New offensive line coach Frank Verducci said he first contemplated the switch during winter conditioning, as he was just becoming acquainted with the Irish players. Verducci said that his previous experience in the NFL helped him see Olsen as a potential center.

“Right before I came here, we were in the process of evaluating guys for the draft, and when you come in you kind of look at these seniors like where they would fit in that picture,” Verducci said. “[Olsen] doesn’t have prototypical guard size at the next level, but he does have excellent center size.”

Olsen said that, initially, he was a bit hesitant to make the switch.

“On a personal level, going into senior year, after starting the whole season at left guard, it was a little nervousness that came with that,” he said. “Starting a new position, trying a new thing on having the responsibility of snapping the ball.”

He added, though, that he believed in Verducci’s long coaching history.

“To be honest, I really didn’t have much of a choice but to put all my trust and faith in Coach Verducci, know that he’s going to do the right thing to put us in the best position to win,” Olsen said.

Olsen will be replacing senior Dan Wenger, who just a few weeks ago was placed on the Rimington Award Watch List for the nation’s top center. Wenger is now listed as a backup behind senior Chris Stewart, and Weis indicated that he would play in Saturday’s opener against Nevada.

Olsen, for his part, has seized the job at center and never looked back.

“Like anybody else, he had a learning curve at the position,” Verducci said. “There are just nuances, but he’s done a good job overcoming that and we’re confident in him going into the game.”

Verducci said that Olsen was quick to pick up the techniques of playing in the middle, but that the mental part of the position took a little more time.

“He has all the physical qualities,” Verducci said. “I think the hardest thing is the mental part of the game. At the other four positions, you’re basically being told if there are any adjustments. If you’re the center, you’re telling what those adjustments are.”

It is often the center’s responsibility to point out aspects of the defense, such as who the middle linebacker is or where any potential blitzes may be coming from. Oh, and then he has to block the 300-pound behemoth bearing down on him.

“You have to understand the whole thing,” Verducci said. “You have to understand coverages, never mind defensive linemen. You have to get a broader perspective on the game.”

Olsen said that even though he was a little nervous at first, the move to center could pay big dividends for him or his team down the road.

“As far as helping the team, yeah, it’s going to help the team,” he said “But it’s also going to help myself be a more versatile player. Injuries happen all the time in football. And to play more than one position is something that’s very valuable on the offensive line.”

Verducci and Olsen are also thinking a few years down the road with the position change. Since Olsen is a senior, the NFL could potentially await at the end of the season.

“I hope so, knock on wood,” Olsen said when asked about a possible professional future. “Right now I’m trying to look at this season. This is my senior year. I’ve enjoyed my career so far and I’m really trying to have the best year I can right now.”

Verducci, though, had other things on his mind.

“Let’s just worry about getting past Nevada first,” he said with a laugh when asked about Olsen’s NFL prospects. “Let’s just get past the first snap of the first game.”