Sunday, August 24, 2008

2008 Opponent Position Preview: Tight End and Offensive Line | by Pat

Time to hit the trenches. If you're just coming up to speed, here are the QBs, RBs, and WRs.

This is a pretty long preview, so get comfy. One note for the offensive line preview, I tended not to repeat heights and weights very often as every team has guys that are around 6'4" and around 300 pounds. I tried to note those that were outliers on either side of that norm. As always, the number in parantheses next to a player's name is where Phil Steele ranked him compared to his position peers.


TE - Matthew Kawulok. RS Junior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 1 reception, 2 yards, 0 TDs.
Waika Spencer. RS Junior. New Starter.
2007 stats: 0 receptions, 0 yards, 0 TDs.

San Diego State frequently uses two tight ends so they technically have two starters. Redshirt junior Matthew Kawulok missed the final five games of the season last year due to injury but is healthy now and will look to improve upon last year's single catch. At 6'2" 235 pounds he's a relatively small tight end. Another redshirt junior Waika Spencer is listed as the co-starter and at 6'4" 265 pounds with no career receptions has the hallmarks of a blocking tight end. Depth: Tony DeMartinis was a defensive end who was switched over to tight end in the spring. He doesn't have any experience at the position, but has prototypical size at 6'5" 255 pounds. Sophomore Alston Umoulo caught 6 passes for 67 yards and 1 TD last season but has been slowed by injuries so far in fall camp.

LT - Peter Nelson. Junior. New Starter.
LG - Mike Schmidt. Senior. Returning Starter.
C - Trask Iosefa. Sophomore. Returning Starter.
RG - Ikaika Aken-Moleta. Junior. New Starter.
RT - Lance Louis. RS Senior. New Starter.

San Diego State lost likely starting left tackle Mike Matamua to injury early in fall camp and now the responsibility of protecting the Aztec blind side falls to junior Peter Nelson. A converted defensive tackle, Nelson started two games last year at DT before dropping back into a reserve role. He's now flipped to offense, where he most likely will have a few growing pains. On the other side of the line, senior Lance Louis came out as the winner in the practice battle to start at right tackle. The converted tight end played as a backup guard last season, but will now move out to the edge of the line. Center Trask Iosefa (right) started every game last season, but he lost his starting job during spring practice to redshirt freshman Tommie Draheim. Draheim was injured recently and will miss the ND game so Iosefa is back as the starter. Ikaika Aken-Moleta is the heaviest lineman of the five at 6'2" 320 pounds and moves into the starting lineup after seeing limited action as a backup last season. A former walk-on, Mike Schmidt has the most experience of any of the starters. He started last year at left guard but switched over to right guard in the middle of the year. Now he's back at left guard. Depth: There isn't much depth on this team as none of the second string offensive lineman have played a single snap in college. The backup at right tackle is redshirt freshman Kurtis Guenther who had the starting job coming out of spring practice, but lost it to Louis. If Louis struggles, Guenther will be right back into the mix. The two biggest linemen on the team are both redshirt freshmen and backups at guard in 6'7" 320 pound Kellen Farr and 6'4" 330 pound Emilio Rivera.


TE - Carson Butler. Senior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 20 receptions, 246 yards, 2 TDs.

How much the tight end is involved in the passing game in the new Michigan offense remains to be seen. But Carson Butler has a desirable mix of size, talent, and experience and will draw defensive attention whenever he's on the field. The 6'5" 250 pound senior has been earning accolades early in fall camp and will be a leader on a young and revamped offense. Depth: Michigan has another senior as the #2 tight end in Mike Massey. Injury cut his 2007 season short, but he's healthy now and will add more depth in 2008. Coach Rodriguez said he's looking for multiple starters which means that sophomore Martell Webb and freshmen Kevin Kroger and Brandon Moore have a shot at seeing the field in some capacity. Whichever one proves the most effective as a light on his feet blocker will probably get a head up on his teammates.

LT - Mark Ortmann. RS Junior. New Starter.
LG -Tim McAvoy. RS Junior. New Starter.
C -David Molk. RS Freshman. New Starter.
RG -David Moosman. RS Junior. New Starter.
RT - Steve Schilling. (#17 T) RS Sophomore. Returning Starter.

Last year's offensive line featured a number of veterans including #1 NFL Draft pick Jake Long. This year, inexperience and lack of depth highlight the Wolverine line. The lone returning starter is right tackle Steve Schilling (left) who started every game last year at that spot and will have to provide leadership for a young and inexperienced line. A recent injury to likely right guard starter Cory Zerbil during fall practice has forced new starting center David Moosman to slide over and start at guard instead. That means redshirt freshman David Molk moves up from the second string to the starting lineup with no college experience. He's listed at 6'2" 282 pounds which might be a bit generous height-wise. Redshirt junior Tim McAvoy has one career start to his name and backup experience at both guard and center. Like Molk, he checks in under 290 pounds. Michigan's new zone read option offense does stress quickness over bulk though, so a lighter line is somewhat by design. The newest left tackle is redshirt junior Mark Ortmann. A career backup to this point, Ortmann did start two games at right tackle last season. He has been the subject of positive reviews during fall practice, but he is still an inexperienced player at one of the most crucial spots on the offense. Depth: There just isn't much veteran depth at all for Michigan. Redshirt sophomore 6'4" 274 pound John Ferrara was a backup defensive tackle just a few days ago but now he's an offensive guard and pushing for a starting spot at guard. It goes without saying that it's not a good sign for the rest of the line's talent if he can crack the starting lineup with only two weeks worth of practice. Right tackle Perry Dorrstein is the only other non-freshman backing up the starters. Dann O'Neill is one of those freshman and has a bright future at either right or left tackle, but likely won't be ready to see extended action by the time Michigan plays ND. Another freshman, 6'5" 279 pound Rocko Khoury, is pushing for action at center guard and might spell Molk if he struggles.


TE -Charlie Gantt. RS Sophomore. New Starter.
2007 stats: 0 receptions, 0 yards, 0 TDs.

New starter Charlie Gantt has big shoes to fill in place of departed starter Kellen Davis. He has been earning positive reviews so far in fall camp and although he's yet to catch a pass in a game, he should be moderately effective in the Spartan passing game. He's not an overly fast tight end and will likely do his damage catching short passes and trying to muscle for additional yardage. Depth: Redshirt freshman Garrett Clark has the size of a typical receiving tight end at 6'5" 240 pounds and could see plenty of passes thrown his way as well assuming he can handle the blocking duties required in MSU's pro-style offense.

LT Rocco Cironi. RS Junior. New Starter.
LG Mike Bacon. RS Junior. New Starter.
C Joel Nitchman. RS Junior. Returning Starter.
RG Roland Martin. (#13 G) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
RT Jesse Miller. RS Senior. Returning Starter.

The Spartan line is undergoing a bit of transition from last year's veteran line, but everyone starting this year has at least been in the program for four years. The strength of the line will be on the right where 5th year seniors Roland Martin (right) and Jesse Miller are back and provide strong run blocking. Redshirt junior Rocco Cironi is the new face at left tackle. He did start there twice as a redshirt freshman, but only saw limited action last season as a backup. Center Joel Nitchman started last year as a backup but injuries forced him into the starting lineup for eight games. RS juinor Mike Bacon so far is holding on to the starting left guard spot in a back and forth camp battle. He has seen some time as a backup, including one career start. Depth: Pushing Bacon for the starting spot is redshirt freshman Joel Foreman. He's earning plenty of praise and it's probably only a matter of time before he cracks the starting lineup. Redshirt junior Brendon Moss is the backup at left tackle but can also play some guard if needed. After that, there isn't much experienced depth on the team at all. Redshirt freshmen guard Jared McGaha and the incoming freshmen are being counted on to grow up in a hurry in case any of the starters go down for extended periods of time.


TE - Kyle Adams. Junior. New Starter.
2007 stats: 8 receptions, 109 yards, 2 TDs.

Like at Michigan State, the Boilermakers need to replace a prolific starter at tight end. Junior Kyle Adams did see the ball thrown his way a few times last year and even found the end zone. But he's not the athletic threat that Dustin Keller was last year. He'll still be a target in the redzone but in the middle of the field will be more of a second or third option in the passing game. He's big enough at 6'5" 251 pounds to be an effective blocker. Depth: Jerry Wasikowski only caught two passes last year, but one of them was for a touchdown.

LT - Zach Jones. RS Junior. Returning Starter.
LG - Zach Reckman. RS Junior. Returning Starter.
C - Cory Benton. RS Senior. New Starter.
RG - Justin Pierce. RS Sophomore. New Starter.
RT - Sean Sester. (#7 T) RS Senior. Returning Starter.

Purdue made a move similar to Notre Dame as last year's starting left tackle Sean Sester (left) moved back to his more natural right tackle. A big 6'7" 325 pound mauler, Sester is entering his fourth year as a starter and will be one of the more experienced and talented linemen that ND face in 2008. Sester did miss spring practice due to injury, which was a theme for Purdue as two other returning starters did as well. Former walk-on Zach Jones was out with a knee injury but last year's starting right tackle has now flipped to left tackle as he's slightly quicker than Sester. Redshirt senior Cory Benton moves from backup roles at center and guard to the new starter in the center. As Purdue operates out of the shotgun on nearly every play, he'll need to master the shotgun snap from the start. Zach Reckman moved from the defensive line and started every game last year. Now a veteran on the offensive side of the ball, he should be improved from last season. Redshirt sophmore Justin Pierce is the youngest starter on the line, but did start three games last year as an injury fill-in. Depth: Redshirt junior Eric Hedstrom missed the spring due to injury but might see some time at guard if he can stay healthy. Redshirt junior Jared Zwilling was moved from defensive tackle to the offensive line in the spring to provide more depth and now is listed as a backup guard.


TE - Austin Gunder.
RS Senior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 10 receptions, 86 yards, 2 TDs.

Austin Gunder is the current starter for Stanford, but it might only be a temporary assignment. The redshirt senior started 2007 as a backup but when the starter Jim Dray went out with an injury, Gunder started the final six games. He missed spring practice with a hip injury, so he will have to come up to speed quickly during fall practice. Depth: Junior Jim Dray (#36) has started 17 games for Stanford, but tore his ACL last season and has been rehabbing ever since. He's expected to return to full contact practice soon, but will undoubtedly be rusty. How much he's used against Notre Dame in October will depend on how fast he returns to form and how effective Gunder is. A name familiar to Irish fans, Konrad Reuland will be eligible to play for Stanford after the fourth game of the season. ND is Stanford's sixth game so the Fighting Irish will very likely face off against their former teammate.

LT - Ben Muth. RS Senior. Returning Starter.
LG - Gustav Rystedt. RS Senior. New Starter.
C - Alex Fletcher. (#12 C) Senior. Returning Starter.
RG - Andrew Phillips. RS Sophomore. New Starter.
RT - Chris Marinelli. (#54 T) RS Junior. Returning Starter.

The good news is that most of Stanford's line is back from last year. The bad news is that only Arizona State, Syracuse, and ND let up more sacks last season. Senior Alex Fletcher (right) is the leader of the line and will be a four year starter for the Cardinal. He played guard all last season but is able to move back to center for his final year of eligibility. Ben Muth at left tackle rose to the starting ranks for the final nine games of the season when usual starter Allen Smith went down with a knee injury. Chris Marinelli has started 17 games at right tackle and was named honorable mention All Pac-10 last season. The two question marks are at guard as Gustav Rystedt moves to the offense from the defensive line for his final year in college. While he's new to both offense and being a starter, he has played in 35 straight games so he's at least not new to college level competition. Redshirt sophomore Andrew Philips has been hailed as one of the most improved linemen on the team the past few years and will finally get to show what he can do as a starter. Depth: Backing up Fletcher is Oklahoma transfer Chase Beeler who did start one game as a freshman for the Sooners. Depth at tackle is a major concern as junior Matt Kopa is the only one with game experience. Redshirt freshman Tyler Mabry is listed as the backup left tackle, but he hasn't played a snap in college yet. 5th year senior and 23 game starter Allen Smith is slowly recovering from a knee injury and it isn't clear if he'll be back in time for the Notre Dame game or not.


TE Zach Pianalto. Sophomore. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 20 receptions, 204 yards, 0 TDs.

Sophomore Zach Pianalto was listed at tight end last year as a freshman, but was the size of a wide receiver at 6'4" 220 pounds. His speed was a major advantage, but he lacked the size to be an effective blocker. He's now up around 245 pounds and will be a more complete player for North Carolina. He started eight games last year and saw more snaps as the season wore on. Depth: Also starting eight games last season was redshirt junior Richard Quinn. He's much more of a traditional blocking tight end as he totaled 4 receptions for 27 yards and 1 touchdown. He's 6'4" 260 pounds so he definitely has the size to be a very effective blocker. Freshman Christian Wilson is a mobile tight end that might sneak in a few receptions in 2008.

LT - Kyle Jolly. RS Junior. Returning Starter.
LG - Bryon Bishop. RS Senior. New Starter.
C - Aaron Stahl. Senior. Returning Starter.
RG - Calvin Darity. (#33 G) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
RT Garrett Reynolds. (#29 T) Senior. Returning Starter.

North Carolina only needs to find one new starter for their offensive line. Right tackle Garrett Reynolds (left) returns with 19 career starts under his belt. According to the official UNC site he lead the team in knock down blocks and also graded out the highest. Left tackle Kyle Jolley is also a returning starter after cracking the starting lineup last season. He did miss all of spring practice with a broken foot, but is healthy now. Right guard Calvin Darity is the most experienced of the bunch having started 24 straight games at right guard. The left guard spot was manned by Aaron Stahl all last year, but he moved to center this season. There might be a bit of a transition period, but his overall experience shouldn't make the transition too hard. The only new starter on the line is redshirt senior Bryon Bishop. He's seen very limited action so far in his career due to a freshman year back injury and will be the weak link of the line, especially early in the season. Depth: Bishop's spot in the lineup isn't very secure as redshirt freshman Alan Pelc is pushing him for the starting left guard role. At 6'6" 325 pounds, Pelc is a bigger guard than Bishop, but so far Bishop has been able to hold onto the starting spot. Junior Lowell Dyer started six games last season at center and will provide decent depth at the position this season. Redshirt freshman Kevin Bryant will be in the mix somewhere if only for his massive 6'7" 350 pound size. Sophomore Mike Ingersoll is the likely successor to either Jolly or Reynolds at one of the tackle spots.


TE - Michael Gottlieb.
RS Senior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 12 receptions, 136 yards, 0 TDs.

Former walk-on Michael Gottlieb started six games last season for Washington and is actually the team's leading returning receiver. He wasn't used much in the passing game last season, but given that he's the most experienced receiver on the team now, he should be a pass target more often. Depth: Gottlieb has missed a few practices during fall camp due to a hamstring injury. Moving up to the first team in his stead is 5th year senior Walt Winter. Winter played in 12 games last year as a backup and special teams player, but hasn't recorded a reception yet at Washington. Two freshman will compete with Winter for playing time. Redshirt freshman Chris Izbicki and true freshman Kavario Middleton were two highly rated recruits. Both are athletic and expectations are high for both with Middleton the one most assume will quickly work his way into the offensive rotation.

LT - Ben Ossai. RS Junior. Returning Starter.
LG - Ryan Tolar. RS Sophomore. Returning Starter.
C - Juan Garcia. (#26 C) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
RG - Casey Bulcya. (#48 G) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
RT - Cody Habben. RS Sophomore. New Starter.

There might be bigger offensive lines in college football than Washington's, but there aren't many. If we're to believe the offical roster, left tackle Ben Ossai tips the scales at 6'6" 332 pounds. The left and right guards, Ryan Tolar and Casey Bulyca, check in at 6'5" 321 pounds and 6'6" 340 pounds respectively. Right tackle Cody Habben is 6'6", 316 pounds while sixth year senior center Juan Garcia (right) is the lightweight of the group at 6'3", 305 pounds. Garcia is the best player on the line though and has started every game the past two seasons. He's making his way back from a foot injury that threatened to knock him out for the season. Habben is the only new starter of the group, but even he started three games last year out of a backup role. Depth: While Garcia was rehabbing, 6'3" 320 pound center Matt Sedillo worked with the first team and gained valuable practice experience. He will likely rotate in with Garcia during the year if Garcia's foot starts to bother him. Adding even more size to the OL rotation is redshirt senior Jordan White-Frisbee at an enormous 6'6" 368 pounds. He's not the biggest lineman on the team though. That honor goes to 6'6" 382 pound backup guard Morgan Rosborough. Redshirt freshman Mark Armelin seems tiny in comparison at 6'5" 304 pounds, but is the backup left tackle.


TE - Nate Byham. (#19) Junior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 15 receptions, 210 yards, 1 TD.

Pitt returns a 12 game starter in Nate Byham. More receiver than blocker, his 14.00 yards per catch average last season is impressive for a tight end. Entering the second half of his college career, his experience and size will make him an attractive target for QB Bill Stull. Depth: Almost considered co-starters, junior Dorin Dickerson and redshirt junior John Pelusi will see time along with Byham in two tight end sets. Pelusi started three games last season and caught 5 passes for 46 yards but is better as a blocker on the line. Dickerson, a very highly recruited player, was on defense last season at linebacker but returns to offense for 2008 where he should make an impact as a tight end, especially in the receiving game.

LT - Jason Pinkston. (#46 T) RS Sophomore. New Starter.
LG - C.J. Davis. (#31 G) Senior. Returning Starter.
C - Robb Houser. Junior. New Starter.
RG - John Malecki. Junior. New Starter.
RT - Joe Thomas. (#50 T) Junior. Returning Starter.

Pitt is in a bit of a rebuilding mode after losing three starters, including first rounder Jeff Otah. A stabilizing force will be returning starter C.J. Davis who has started 30 games and is entering his fourth year as a starter. New center Robb Houser is a highly rated junior college transfer, but will need to quickly adapt to the increase in competition and hiking to a new QB. Right guard John Malecki will need to get used to new surroundings as well after being a backup defensive tackle last season. He's a bit undersized at 6'3" 280 pounds, so it will be interesting to see how he holds up over the course of a game. The big question marks for Pitt are at the tackle spots. Redshirt sophomore Jason Pinkston began last season as the starter at right tackle, but injured his shoulder in Pitt's third game and missed the rest of the season and spring ball. He's back now, but making the transition to left tackle where he'll need to prove he can be quick on his feet in addition to showing that the shoulder is fully healthy. At right tackle, Joe Thomas is attempting to transition from right guard, where he has started 15 games. Moving from guard to tackle is a harder transition due to the added athleticism needed at tackle. Depth: Thomas has had a few struggles during fall camp, which is why true freshman and former 5-star recruit Lucas Nix might beat him out for the starting job. At the very least he'll see playing time in relief of Thomas during the year. There isn't experienced depth at left tackle either as redshirt freshman Greg Gaskins is the second in line behind Pinkston. Walk-on sophomore Alex Karabin is competing with redshirt freshman Wayne Jones to back up Houser at center so there is more inexperience there.


TE - Ryan Purvis. (#5) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 54 receptions, 553 yards, 4 TDs.

Redshirt senior Ryan Purvis was a frequent target in BC's pass happy offense last season, eclipsing the 500 yard receiving mark. He's the second leading returning receiver and will be a major part of the offense in 2008, similar to what John Carlson was for ND last season. A 1st team All-ACC player last season, Purvis will be on the short list for more postseason honors this season. Depth: There isn't any experienced depth behind Purvis though as his backup is redshirt freshman Lars Anderson. Redshirt sophomore Jordan McMicheal adds a lot of size to the tight end depth chart at 6'5" 262 pounds. When BC needs more heft on the line, McMicheal might be the one getting call.

LT Anthony Castonzo. Sophomore. Returning Starter.
LG - Clif Ramsey. Senior. Returning Starter.
C - Matt Tennant. (#21 C) Junior. Returning Starter.
RG - Thomas Claiborne. RS Sophomore. New Starter.
RT - Rich Lapham. RS Sophomore. New Starter.

Just like Pitt, Boston College is looking to replace a high draft pick at left tackle by moving over a former right tackle. Anthony Castonzo started every game last year at right tackle as a true freshman. He's added weight but is still a bit undersized at 6'7" 285 pounds. There will be some adjustments as he now faces the best speed rusher of the opposing team, but he's athletic and has a bright future. Helping out Castonzo is senior Clif Ramsey who moved to left guard after starting every game in 2007 at right guard. Matt Tennant went from the bench to full-time starter last year and performed admirably. He's back and will aid in the transition from the Matt Ryan era at QB. The biggest starter of the bunch is 6'3" 330 pound Thomas Claiborne. He's a rookie on the offensive side of the ball as he was switched over from defensive tackle midway through last season. Another slightly inexperienced player will slide into Castonzo's old right tackle spot. Redshirt sophomore Rich Lapham is 6'8" 320 pounds but has only seen limited action as a backup last season. Depth: There's no experience backing up Castonzo at left tackle as redshirt freshman Nathan Richman is the current #2 on the depth chart. One time ND recruit Pat Sheil is backing up Lapham at right tackle while another redshirt freshman, John Elliot, is behind Ramsey at left guard.


TE -

Still the easiest position to preview as Navy doesn't have a tight end on the roster.

LT - Jeff Battipaglia. Sophomore. New Starter.
LG - Anthony Gaskins. Senior. Returning Starter.
C - Ricky Moore. Senior. New Starter.
RG - Curtis Bass. Junior. New Starter.
RT - Andrew McGinn. Senior. Returning Starter.

As usual, Navy features the smallest offensive line that ND will face. There has been turnover from last year's line and so far in fall camp the story has been how the DL has been getting the better of the OL frequently. Left guard Anthony Gaskins (left) is the most experienced player on the line with 13 starts under his belt and also one of the strongest players on the team. Right tackle Andrew McGinn is back after an ankle injury limited him to only seven starts. Only listed at 255 pounds, he's extremely quick for an offensive tackle which definitely helps in Navy's option attack offense. Center Ricky Moore has plenty of size at 6'4" 295, but is new to the offensive line after switching over from defensive tackle this spring. Sophomore Jeff Battipaglia has been a surprise at camp jumping from third team to first team. Only 6'4" 260 pounds, he's light and hasn't played a snap in college yet. New right guard Curtis Bass did play some last year, but like Battipaglia he's smaller than average at 6'1", 266 pounds. Depth: 6'3" 260 pound junior Austin Mike was the starter at left tackle heading out of the spring, but as of the last depth chart was slotted as third string left guard. If Battipaglia struggles, Mike might find his way back to playing time at left tackle. Junior Andy Lark was moved over from defensive tackle in the spring like Moore and is pushing for backup guard status behind Bass.


TE - Mike Owen.
RS Junior. New Starter.
2007 stats: 5 receptions, 51 yards, 0 TDs.

Redshirt junior Mike Owen was moved over from linebacker at the start of the 2007 and started three games as the backup tight end. He was more blocker than receiver last season, but that will need to change if he is to help out the struggling 'Cuse offense. Depth: Redshirt senior Ben Maljovec has also switched from linebacker where he started six games last season. He will have a significant learning curve after playing defense for four years. At a listed 6'3" 223 pounds, he's also going to be relatively undersize for a tight end.

LT - Tucker Baumbach. RS Sophomore. New Starter.
LG -Ryan Bartholomew. RS Sophomore. New Starter.
C - Jim McKenzie. RS Sophomore. Returning Starter.
RG - Ryan Durand. (#36 G) Senior. Returning Starter.
RT - Corey Chavers. RS Junior. Returning Starter.

The big push in the off-season for the Syracuse line was to lose weight and gain quickness. After being second only to Notre Dame in sacks allowed in 2007, the priority for the 'Cuse line was to improve against opposing pass rushers. New left tackle Tucker Baumbach is one of those players who dropped close to 30 pounds and now checks in at 6'5" 305 pounds. He only played in one game last year though, so while lighter on his feet he's still pretty inexperienced. There is experience on the right side of the line as both right guard Ryan Durand (right) and right tackle Corey Chavers are back with 24 and 18 career starts respectively to their name. As part of the OL last year that was actually worse running the ball than Notre Dame, they will need to turn that experience into better production in 2008. Center Jim McKenzie started the final 10 games of 2007 in his first year of action. He's relatively light at 280 pounds, but coming into the season as a veteran now, he should have a better idea of what to do on the field. The battle for the starting left guard spot is still ongoing in fall camp. Redshirt sophomore Ryan Bartholomew is currently listed as the starter after only seeing minimal time in two games last season. Depth: Pushing Bartholomew for the 1st team gig is sophomore Adam Rosner, who played in eight games last year as a backup. Jonathan Meldrum is penciled in as the backup right tackle after playing in seven games as a true freshman last season.


TE -Anthony McCoy.
Junior. New Starter.
2007 stats: 2 receptions, 18 yards, 1 TD.

Fred Davis was Southern Cal's leading receiver last year from the tight end spot. Replacing his production will be a tall task for junior Anthony McCoy. He only saw two passes last year and had been somewhat inconsistent in fall camp so he might start the season blocking or as a decoy more than receiving. Depth: Redshirt freshman Rhett Ellison has been having a strong fall so far and might push McCoy for playing time. When SC goes with two tight ends, Ellison might be the passing target while McCoy blocks. 5th year senior Jimmy Miller provides depth off the bench but the one to watch is freshman Blake Ayles. He'll definitely see the field and might even work his way into the starting lineup before the end of the season.

LT - Charles Brown. RS Junior. New Starter.
LG - Jeff Byers. (#18 G) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
C - Kristofer O'Dowd. (#18 C) Sophomore. New Starter.
RG - Zach Herberer. RS Sophomore. New Starter.
RT - Butch Lewis. (#53 T) RS Sophomore. New Starter.

The Southern Cal line will need to replace a number of departed NFL draft picks including left tackle stalwart Sam Baker. Redshirt junior Charles Brown is the new starter at left tackle after being a backup last season. He did start the 2007 opener at right tackle, but slid back to the second team. The graybeard of the SC line is redshirt junior Jeff Byers (left) who has battled all manners of injuries in his time with the Trojans. He was finally healthy last year and started every game. New to college and the starting lineup last year, Kristofer O'Dowd had a strong debut as a true freshman starting at center in three of the first four games before missing six games with a dislocated kneecap. He's now the #1 guy at center and will be a force for the next three years. Redshirt sophomore Butch Lewis will get the start at right tackle. Next to him at right guard is a bit of a fall camp battle. Redshirt sophomore Zach Herberer has a slight edge for now as he builds off of his two starts last season. Depth: Pushing Herberer is redshirt junior Thomas Herring (#49 G). Herring has failed to make an impact at tackle and is now fighting to start at guard. Alex Parsons came to SC as a defensive tackle but switched to the offensive line last season. He played sparingly and now is the backup center. Highly regarded freshman Tyron Smith is the backup at left tackle.

2008 Opponent Tight End Analysis and Ranking

After allowing two passing touchdowns to tight ends in 2006, that number doubled in 2007. The good news is that none of the tight ends that caught one (Kellen Davis -2, Dustin Keller, Fred Davis) return for 2008. How the Irish perform against tight ends in the passing game will depend largely on the play of new starter Harrison Smith. He'll be blitzing a lot, but also will drop into coverage and likely be covering the opposing tight end. If you don't hear the tight ends name a lot, then Harrison Smith is probably having a good game.

The biggest offensive weapons appear to be BC's Ryan Purvis, Pitt's Nate Byham (and Dorin Dickerson), UNC's Zach Pianalto, and Michgian's Carson Butler. Of course, it remains to be seen how much Michigan's new offense will feature Butler. Byham and Pianalto are solid targets in offenses with a number of very good receivers so odds are they will be open plenty. Purvis will be a much bigger source of defensive attention as BC is bringing in a number of new receivers.

As extra blockers, it's hard to really say much about this year's crop. There are no 280 pounders who are basically offensive linemen wearing a tight end number. But each team has a few guys over 250 who will have the size and strength to help out in the rush game. Will ND's still young linebackering corp be able to shed the TE blocks and tackle the running back?

Here's my best guess at how to rank them. There just aren't a lot of no-doubt All-American tight ends facing ND this season. But there are a number of guys who have experience either as a returning starter or a backup who cut his teeth last year as a blocker.

1. Pittsburgh - Byham is a solid tight end and Dickerson has a lot of potential.
2. Boston College
- Purvis is the best tight end ND will face. Not too much depth after him though.
3. North Carolina - Pianalto will make teams pay if they forget about him. Solid team depth.
4. Michigan - Carson Bulter is extremely athletic. How much will Michigan use him?
5. Stanford
- Once Dray is healthy and Reuland is eligble, Stanford will have two solid tight ends.
6. Southern Cal - A bit of a rebuilding year for the Trojans at tight end. Watch out for Ayles.
7. Purdue - A down year for Purdue at the tight end spot.
8. Washington - The starter isn't much of a threat, but there are some decent freshmen.
9. Michigan State
- Not much experience trying to fill Kellen Davis's shoes.
10. San Diego State
- Some new faces will need to prove they can help the Aztec offense.
11. Syracuse
- Two inexperienced converted defensive players isn't an ideal TE depth chart.
12. Navy - No tight end. No way to avoid 12th place.

2008 Opponent Offensive Line Analysis and Ranking

The Notre Dame offensive line is getting a lot of attention, but the play of the defensive line is what will make or break the ND season. Last year the Irish couldn't stop the run all season and now they have to improve while losing star Trevor Laws. The DL will be young and inexperienced with a completely different starting lineup than the one that began 2007. It's not a recipe for obvious success.

To complete the picture though, we need to look at the type of lines that ND will face. Are they filled with veterans and All-America candidates, or, are they mostly as inexperienced as ND's D-line? As always, reality is somewhere in the murky middle, but this year it's leaning more toward inexperience than veteran stars. No team on the schedule returns all five starters from last year. Only two teams (UNC, UW) return four starters. Before taking an overall look though, I want to focus on the left tackles that will try to slow the Irish pass rush.

Last season, Notre Dame faced nine returning starters at left tackle. The number this season drops to five. Last season, Phil Steele ranked seven opposing left tackles, including three in his Top 10. This season, he only ranked one, Pitt's Jason Pinkston, a new starter, at #46. In other words, there is a big dropoff in talent and experience at the opponent left tackle spot from last season.

Taking it a step further, Stanford, North Carolina, and Washington are the only teams that return a starting left tackle who actually played left tackle last season. Boston College and Purdue are moving a right tackle over to left tackle, which isn't always a successful move. Mo Richardson will be the defensive end most often facing off against the opposing left tackles. It will be very interesting to see how he performs as the number of inexperienced tackles should translate into increased Irish pass pressure and sacks. If not, then it will be another long season.

Looking at the running game, there is some good news and bad news. The good news is that the likely two toughest opponents, Southern Cal and Michigan, also have some of the least experienced offensive lines. With the case of the Trojans they will have the entire season to develop before facing ND, but they still aren't quite up to the levels of previous years. The bad news for ND is that what could be considered the so-called "swing games", those make or break the season type games against programs that are on the upswing like North Carolina, Michigan State, and Pitt, feature plenty of returning staters. Even Washington, while maybe not as talented as others on the schedule, returns a very veteran line. That could pose a problem for the ND run defense, especially against the Tarheels and Spartans as they have a quality running backs at their disposal. Pitt also has a star RB, but their line seems to be somewhat of a work in progress. The Irish defense will need to take advantage of lines like these and not be pushed around by them. If they can do so, whether by scheme or brute strength, then ND will surprise. If teams continue to get four to five yards a carry against the somewhat undersized ND line, it might be a second disappointing season.

On to the rankings, and I have to be honest. This is probably the least sure I've been in ranking a position unit in the three years I've been doing this. There are no clear cut dominant units. There are very few terrible ones that obviously belong at the bottom. You could say that teams 1 through 9 could be reordered in just about any configuration. In the end, I leaned heavily on returning experience, game-ready quality backups, and the oh-so-vague "gut feeling". Criticisms and alternate suggestions are certainly welcome in the comment section.

1. North Carolina - A nice mix of returning veterans, depth, and size.
2. Washington - A huge OL that needs Garcia to stay healthy to keep this ranking.
3. Michigan State - A few new faces, but no starter younger than redshirt junior.
4. Southern Cal - A step back for a normally dominant line. How good will they be by November?
5. Boston College - The returning starters will keep the new guys in line.
6. Pittsburgh - A bit of a wild card. When a freshman pushes for a starting job, that's not a great sign.
7. Purdue - Should be solid at tackle. The interior might be weaker than the last few iterations.
8. Stanford - Plenty of returning players, but returning from a team that struggled last season.
9. Michigan - A ton of new faces and inexperience. And not all of the new guys were top recruits.
10. Syracuse - A skinnier version of last season's porous line.
11. Navy - A bit of a rebuilding job will be needed on the Navy line.
12. San Diego State - Injuries have hurt what was already a so-so line.