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FOOTBALL: Consistency across the line

Eric Retter | Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Charlie Weis has been labeled an offensive genius, but all the play-calling in the world won’t help if your players don’t execute. The Irish can attest to that, as the offense as a group struggled in practice on Tuesday.

“I felt like today was not a good day for the offense,” sophomore offensive tackle Ryan Harris said after practice. “Why that is I couldn’t tell you, there’s probably numerous intangibles there, but today was not an acceptable day for the type of offense and the type of team we want to be next year.”

To ensure that days like Tuesday are more the exception than the rule, the Irish will start up front, aiming for an improvement in an offensive line squad that struggled at times last season.

“Definitely our main problem is consistency,” Harris said. “We have yet to consistently perform game after game, and that’s something that we want to do and that’s something that we need to do as an experienced part of this team.”

Coming into this spring, the Notre Dame offensive line returns not only an experienced team but a deep team, including five starters from last season – a combination that should greatly improve the group’s success as a unit.

“The good thing about our depth is that we have experienced depth. We have five offensive linemen coming back. I think we have eight offensive linemen who have played in games,” Harris said. “We have experienced lineman, and that really speaks a lot to the depth.”

Not only does the unit come in with lots of game experience from its individual members, but the Irish line enters the season with lots of time logged together.

“We’ve been playing together for a few years now,” senior guard Bob Morton said. “We’ve played together and we’ve been in games together and we’ve been in that fire together, so we came into this spring knowing that we would need to be a close-knit group.”

Since the end of last season, the group has come closer and closer together as a unit, which could mean good things for the Irish come fall Saturday afternoons.

“To be an offensive lineman, you need to trust your other four offensive lineman on the line and those behind you,” Harris said, “and I think that’s something that’s rapidly improving, especially with this winter workout and especially with these few spring practices already.”

In part, this closeness has grown out of the line’s seniors and the leadership that they have demonstrated in the off-season.

“If I could commend two people greatly it would be our two [fifth-year senior] linemen in Mark Levoir and Dan Stevenson, really stepping up to be leaders in the off-season, lead[ing] by example, showing up every day to work hard,” Morton said. “Following those guys have made the transition into a new coaching staff a whole lot easier.”

Even under Weis’s complex offense, the line has been able to make strides towards a mastery of the concepts and schemes necessary for their success next fall.

“I think Coach Weis and the coaching staff did a fantastic job of implementing the new offense, giving it to us, sometimes little by little, sometimes big chunks at a time, [and] really telling us what was expected of us,” Morton said.

This can be traced back to new offensive line coach John Latina, who was formerly the offensive coordinator/offensive line coach at Mississippi.

“Coach Latina has made it very easy for us to adjust in terms of our personnel coach, in terms of offensive line coach,” Harris said. “He does some things and talks to us in certain ways that lets us know he’s both our coach and our friend. He definitely made it an easy transition for us that way.”

Behind the new coaching staff, the offensive line is looking to ultimately become more consistent in a way that transcends X’s and O’s.

“The consistency we’re looking for is the consistency of going out there, knowing exactly what we’re doing, and going full speed, and having a sort of reckless abandon about us when we go out there, knowing that we have a certain area or a certain player and we’re going to go out there and attack,” Morton said. “We need to get in attack mentality to play the game of football.”

In building that mentality, Morton and Harris, along with the rest of their teammates on the line, are ready to be leaders on an offensive squad that fully expects Tuesday’s workout to be an anomaly. For them, that means fixing their problems today.

“[We need to] come prepared to work harder and to play better. That’s all you can do,” Harris said.