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Football: All guts, no glory

Chris Hine | Thursday, March 29, 2007

Media attention this spring may be focused on the skill positions, but Notre Dame’s success hinges upon the play of the offensive line.

Next season, the Irish return two starters to the line – fifth-year senior center John Sullivan and sophomore right tackle Sam Young – along with tight end John Carlson.

Carlson, who was named offensive captain along with Travis Thomas, returns this spring after catching 47 passes for 634 yards last season and is adapting to his new leadership role.

“Believe it or not, I do have a vocal side,” Carlson said. “I probably don’t show it to [the media] very much, but behind closed doors it comes out sometimes.”

Carlson said he plans to lead more by example than words – a leadership style that runs in his family.

“When I was a freshman in high school, my older brother Alex was a captain on my football team, basketball team and tennis team. Believe it or not, I played tennis,” Carlson said. “We had a good relationship as brothers, but I always aspire to be like him as an athlete. He was one of those guys who led by example. He wasn’t real vocal. When he needed to be he was, but I found just observing it was more effective at least with the guys we were around. That’s what I aspire to be.”

Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis assigned a leadership position to Sullivan as well. Monday, Weis announced Sullivan would represent the offensive line on the leadership committee. Sullivan will anchor an offensive front that returns just one other starter.

Young will remain at right tackle where he played last season, despite speculation that he would move to left tackle.

“Anytime you got a guy that started 13 games at a position, he has a comfort playing that position,” Irish offensive line coach John Latina said. “Whatever you gain experience-wise, you don’t want to lose that. It’s good to have an experienced player play at a position he feels very comfortable with.”

Latina also said he has confidence in rising junior Paul Duncan’s ability to fill in at left tackle for Ryan Harris, but also emphasized that personnel could change before the end of spring practice.

“Paul’s an athletic guy and he’s played both, and he’s going into his third year in the program. So I expect him to do a good job at that. I feel like he’s going to be OK,” Latina said. “Paul’s played both sides for two years, Sam’s only been on the right. Nothing’s etched in stone, but that’s where we are right now.”

Rising sophomore Dan Wenger – Young’s high school teammate from St. Thomas Aquinas in Coral Springs, Fla. – is one of four candidates battling to play next at guard along with rising sophomore Dan Carufel, rising junior Mike Turkovich and rising sophomore Eric Olsen. In the 20 minutes of practice accessible to the media Wednesday, Turkovich ran through drills at left guard with the first team. Wenger is not confident about his status as one of the two starting guards.

“No, I don’t expect myself to be a starter from here on out,” Wenger said. “It’s always a competition at this level. There’s always a new depth chart everyday. You can’t expect yourself to always be the number-one guy. Anything can happen and drop you down.

“I don’t want to come out and say I’m going to win the job, but I feel confident with the way that I play.”

Rising sophomores Will Yeatman and Konrad Reuland will bide their time in Carlson’s shadow. Yeatman appeared in 12 games last season while Reuland appeared in seven. Reuland said waiting behind Carlson will ultimately pay off in the end.

“Looking at what Coach Weis has done in the NFL – his tight ends have always caught a lot of passes,” Reuland said. “Coming here, his first season was my senior year of high school. So, I wanted to see what they had to offer in terms how often they throw the ball to the tight end and how much they involve the tight end in the offense. I was really pleasantly surprised.”