Monday, August 24, 2009

2009 Opponent Position Preview: Offensive Line | by Pat

Before we move on to the offensive line, here are links for the wide receivers, running backs, and quarterbacks if you need to catch up. Remember, the number in parentheses after a player's name is where Phil Steele ranked him at that position. On to the guys in the trenches.


LT - Mike Gallett. (#64) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
LG -John Bender. (#18) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
C - Kenneth Ackerman. RS Senior. Returning Starter.
RG -Chris Barker. RS Freshman. New Starter.
RT - Alonzo Durham. (#40) RS Senior. Returning Starter.

A largely veteran line, Nevada will only need to replace one starter heading into the 2009 season. That new starter is likely to be redshirt freshman Chris Barker. As you might expect, the coaches are high on his abilities, but the ND game will still be his first game experience. The guard spot is open because redshirt senior Kenneth Ackerman moved to center after starting at guard last season. The most experienced player on the line, redshirt senior and right tackle Alonzo Durham (right). With 26 career starts he is entering his third year as a starter and was All-WAC last season as was left tackle Mike Gallett. With the need for quicker and more athletic linemen, only redshirt senior John Bender is noticeably over 300 pounds at 6'8" 325 pounds. Depth: Nevada isn't very deep at guard or center, but has quality backups at tackle in redshirt sophomore Steve Haley and JUCO transfer Jose Acuna.


LT - Mark Ortmann. RS Senior. Returning Starter.
LG - Stephen Schilling. (#7) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
C - David Molk. (#19) RS Sophomore. Returning Starter.
RG - David Moosman. (#54) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
RT - Mark Huyge. RS Sophomore. New Starter.

After struggling mightily last season, the Michigan OL returns nearly every starter in their second year in the spread option offense. The need to keep the line quick and agile is evident as all five starters are under 300 pounds. The best lineman is left guard Stephen Schilling, who moved from tackle to guard which is proving to be a much better fit. Left tackle Mark Ortmann started at both left tackle and guard last season while fighting through a few injuries. The two Davids, Molk (left) and Moosman, were first year starters last season so look for improvement in their game in 2009. The only new starter is redshirt sophomore Mark Huyge, who was in line to play some last year before injuring his ankle. Depth: Despite some off-season defections, Michigan has a few decent backup options although they are all very inexperinced in redshirt freshmen Elliot Mealer, Ricky Barnum, Rocko Khoury, and Patrick Omameh. They might not all be ready to be valuable, but should provide a solid foundation for future seasons.


LT - Rocco Cironi. RS Senior. Returning Starter.
LG - Joel Foreman. RS Sophomore. Returning Starter.
C - Joel Nitchman. (#26) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
RG - Jared McGaha. RS Sophomore. New Starter.
RT - J'Michael Deane. RS Junior. New Starter.

The Spartan's biggest task will be to rebuild the right side of their line after losing their two best linemen in guard Roland Martin and tackle Jesse Miller. The best returning lineman is probably redshirt sophomore Joel Foreman (right), who had an excellent debut in 2008 and was named a Freshman All-American. On either side of him are experienced vets in redshirt seniors Rocco Cironi and Joel Nitchman, both of whom started every game last season. J'Michael Deane is pushing for one of the open starting spots on the right side of the line. He was the #1 right tackle coming out of the spring but is also working out at guard. If he sticks at tackle, redshirt sophomore Jared McGaha might get the nod at guard. Deane and McGaha both only played against Eastern Michigan last season so they are about an inexperienced as you can get for someone that has actually played in a game. Depth: If either Deane or McGaha lose their grip on the starting job it could be to Bowling Green transer D.J. Young or redshirt senior Brendon Moss at tackle or redshirt freshman Chris McDonald at guard.


LT - Zach Re
ckman. RS Senior. Returning Starter.
LG - Eric Hedstrom. RS Senior. Returning Starter.
C - Jared Zwilling. RS Senior. New Starter.
RG - Ken Plue. Sophomore. New Starter.
RT - Zach Jones. RS Senior. Returning Starter.

A rash of injuries last season led to plenty of playing time for the returning players, even if they are listed as new starters here. Right tackle and redshirt senior Zach Jones is one of the most experienced players on the line and played where he was needed last season, starting games at left and right tackle and right guard. Redshirt senior Jared Zwilling converted from defensive tackle to play center but wound up starting four games at left guard. He's now been moved back to center. Left guard Eric Hedstrom injured his shoulder and missed the final four games of the season. If healthy he'll be right back into the starting lineup. Zach Reckman (left) started five games last year at left tackle but has moved back to guard where he started all 13 in 2007. One of the larger lineman ND will face, sophomore Ken Plue lost nearly 40 pounds in the offseason but still checks in at 6'7" 325 pounds. He was pushed into the starting lineup for the final six games as a freshman last year and now with the weight loss will be looked to as a multi-year starter. Depth: Like Plue, backup left tackle Dennis Kelly was rushed into action as a freshman last year and will look to grab even more time in 2009.


LT - Cody Habben. RS Junior. Returning Starter.
LG - Ben Ossai. (#24) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
C - Ryan Tolar. (#34) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
RG - Senio Kelemete. Sophomore. New Starter.
RT - Drew Schaefer. RS Freshman. New Starter.

There are familiar names at Washington, but still plenty of changes. One of the bigger offensive lines in college football the past few seasons, this year the Husky line all lost plenty of weight. And even the veteran players have been shifted around a bit to new positions. Redshirt senior Ben Ossai (right) started 32 games at left tackle, but has now been moved to the interior. Replacing Ossai at left tackle is redshirt junior Cody Habben, who previously had been the starter at right tackle. Redshirt junior Ryan Tolar has started 17 games at right and left guard but now is the new Husky center. The right side of the line is filled with inexperience. The new right tackle, Drew Schaefer, has yet to play a collegiate snap yet while new right guard Senio Kelemete started four games at defensive tackle as a true freshman last season. Depth: Redshirt freshman center Mykenna Ikehara was too light to play last season but now up over 260 is still undersized but is the clear #2 on the depth chart. Washington still has some of the bulk on the OL in redshirt senior Morgan Rosborough who is perhaps the heaviest lineman ND will face at 379 pounds.


LT - Charles Brown. (#9) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
LG - Jeff Byers. (#2) 6th Yr. Senior. Returning Starter.
C - Kristopher O'Dowd. (#1) Junior. Returning Starter.
RG - Alex Parsons. Senior. Returning Starter.
RT - Tyron Smith. Sophomore. New Starter.

The entire Southern Cal depth chart at OL returns for 2009, giving SC one of the most experienced lines in the country. They also have five starters at or under 300 pounds, which is a bit of a rarity in college football anymore. The best player on the line just might be junior center Kristopher O'Dowd (left). Although held out of spring practice due to shoulder surgery, he is one of the top centers in college football . Next to him is a former center, 6th year senior Jeff Byers. Injuries plagued him early in his career, but now he's healthy and one of the few 6th year players in the nation. Redshirt senior Charles Brown returns to left tackle after starting every game there last season and earning All-Pac 10 honorable mention. A backup last season, sophomore Tyron Smith is the early leader to start at right tackle. The former 5-star recruit has a bright future, even if he has a few first-time starter hiccups in 2009. Senior Alex Parsons is the only starter who might work in a bit of a rotation this year. Depth: Subbing in for Parsons when he needs a break is redshirt senior Nick Howell. Redshirt junior Butch Lewis (#33) started a few games last year at tackle, but now looks to be the backup behind Smith and Brown. Redshirt junior Zach Herberer (#44) started five games over the 2007 and 2008 season, but now has slid back behind the other guards a bit on the depth chart. Thomas Herring (#38) has never been able to overcome injuries and academic concerns and his career is now over as his latest injuries will keep him off the field in his final yeaer of eligibility.


LT - Anthony Castonzo. (#15) Junior. Returning Starter.
LG - Emmett Cleary. RS Freshman. New Starter.
C - Matt Tennant. (#14) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
RG - Thomas Claiborne. (#45) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
RT - Rich Lapham. (#57) RS Junior. Returning Starter.

As usual, Boston College will field a solid offensive line in 2009. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo (right) was excellent in his first full year as a starter in 2008 and should be even better in 2009. He's the next star BC lineman. The one question mark in the line this season is at left guard. Redshirt freshman Emmett Cleary hasn't played in a game yet, but appears to have the lead for the starting spot. Helping Cleary come up to speed will be redshirt senior Matt Tennant, who has 28 career starts under his belt. On the right side, redshirt juniors Thomas Claiborne at guard and Rich Lapham at tackle were first year starters last season so it's likely they will be even better now that they are returning veterans. Depth: Redshirt sophomore Nathan Richman is an option at left guard if Cleary can't hold down the job.


LT - Steven Ayers.
RS sophomore. New Starter.
LG - Zack Williams. RS Junior. New Starter.
C -Kenny Alfred. (#7) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
RG -B.J. Guerra. RS Sophomore. New Starter.
RT - Micah Hannam. (#35) RS Junior. Returning Starter.

Washington State offensive line rarely had time to settle into a routine last year as injuries kept the starters in a constant rotation. The upside is that plenty of players got starting experience last season and nearly all of them return. Only two players, center Kenny Alfred and right tackle Micah Hannam started every game last year, making it 26 straight starts for Hannum and 32 for Alfred. B.J. Guerra started five games to close out the season, giving him some quality experience now that he is the starter. Left tackle Steven Ayers went the opposite way, starting the first few games of the season before injury struck. Zack Williams didn't play a single down last year, but the JUCO transfer is set to start now at left guard. Depth: There are a number of backups who saw added to their career starts total last season including junior center Andrew Roxas (8 games), redshirt junior guard Brian Danaher (8 games), and redshirt junior tackle Joe Eppele (2 games). Where WSU is very thin is at left tackle, where the primary backup is redshirt freshman Tyson Pencer who was out most of 2008 and 2009 spring practice with a shoulder injury.


LT - Jeff Battipaglia.
Junior. Returning Starter.
LG - Osei Asante. Senior. New Starter.
C -Brady DeMell. Sophomore. New Starter.
RG - Curtis Bass. Senior. Returning Starter.
RT - Matt Molloy. Junior. Returning Starter.

Headling the Navy line this season are a pair of dependable tackles in juniors Jeff Battipaglia and Matt Molloy. Molloy took over the starting right tackle job last year as a sophomore mid-season and will likely hold it until he's out of eligibilty. Battipaglia started every game at left tackle and was one of the main reasons Navy kept their rushing title streak alive. Right guard Curtis Bass, one of the strongest players on the team, likewise started every game last season. Left guard Osei Asante hasn't started a game yet, but played in every game last season and was elected a team captain for 2009. The only new face on the line is center Brady DeMell. Only a sophomore, he moved from guard to center and quickly took over the starting job. He's bigger than the other Navy lineman at 286 pounds, which will help open holes for the fullback. Depth: Andy Lark is a name that has made these previews the past few years, but the strongman Lark is still listed as a second team guard for the Midshipmen.


LT - Jas
on Pinkston. (#32) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
LG - Joe Thomas. (#8) Senior. Returning Starter.
C - Robb Houser. (#42) Senior. Returning Starter.
RG - John Malecki. Senior. Returning Starter.
RT - Lucas Nix. Sophomore. New Starter.

Not only are there four returning starters on Pitt's offensive line, all four were first time starters last year for the most part. That means the Pitt line could have an even better 2009 as the starters now are more comfortable with their roles and responsibilities. Senior John Malecki switched from DT to OL last season and started every game at right guard. Left tackle Jason Pinkston started every game at left tackle as well. Junior college transfer Robb Houser started right off the bat before getting injured last season. Sophomore Lucas Nix was a big time recruit and while he didn't have the instant impact as a freshman, he beat out 27 game starter Joe Thomas for the right tackle job in the spring. Thomas was moved to left guard but is still working to keep his starting spot there this fall. Depth: Casey Jacobson (#34) is pushing Thomas for the starting left guard spot and at the very least should rotate in for a few series here and there.


LT - Dan Ryan. RS Senior. New Starter.
LG - Mathieu Olivier. RS Junior. New Starter.
C - Moe Petrus. RS Sophomore. Returning Starter.
RG - Zach Hurd. RS Junior. Returning Starter.
RT - Mike Hicks. RS Senior. Returning Starter.

UConn was a very good running team last year, but as they move to a no-huddle spread-type offense they will need to adjust to the new offense while rebuilding the left side of their line. Redshirt senior Dan Ryan has started a handful of games over his career as a backup and even saw time at tight end last year. Now the 6'6" 315 pounder has the lead in the race to protect Zach Frazer's blind side. The other tackle, Mike Hicks, is one of the most experienced tackles in the nation with 35 career starts on his way to becoming a four year starter. Redshirt sophomore Moe Petrus was a Freshman All-American in his first year as a starter last season, but now has moved from guard to center. Joining Ryan on the left side is new starter redshirt junior Mathieu Olivier who has only seen limited time the past two years as a backup. The other guard, redshirt junior Zach Hurd (right) started every game last season as a first time starter. Depth: Earning praise already and possibly pushing Ryan at the left tackle spot is redshirt freshman Jimmy Bennett. Redshirt senior guard Alex LaMagdelaine has started 18 games in his career before missing nearly the entire 2008 season due to injury.


LT - Jonathan Martin.
RS Freshman. New Starter.
LG - Andrew Phillips. RS Junior. Returning Starter.
C - Chase Beeler. RS Junior. New Starter.
RG - David DeCastro. RS Freshman. New Starter.
RT - Matt Kopa. RS Senior. New Starter.

Stanford's line, which was extremely productive in 2008, is being reformed for 2009 and will feature at least two starters with no college experience. Redshirt freshman Jonathan Martin won the starting left tackle job in spring practice and while there will be a learning curve against top competition, appears to be a long-term starter for the Cardinal. The other totally new starter is big 6'5" 310 pound right guard David DeCastro. Left guard Andrew Phillips started 11 games last season at right guard while new starting center Chase Beeler switches to his more natural position after starting 7 games last season at left guard. He has started at center before, back in 2006 as a freshman at Oklahoma. Right tackle Matt Kopa is the oldest of the starters, but 2008, where he started 6 games, was the first experience as an offensive lineman for the former defensive tackle. Depth: The most experienced player on the roster, redshirt senior Chris Marinelli, has started 28 games in his career, but with a shoulder injury slowing him at the start of fall camp, he's currently working at guard with the 2nd teamers. Once he's healthy or if one of the guards or Kopa at tackle struggle, look for Marinelli to be off the bench. Oft-injured 6th year senior left tackle Allen Smith is still around, but another injury, this time a fractured kneecap, has put his football future on hold yet again. It's possible he might be healthy and ready to go for the Notre Dame game.

2009 Opponent Offensive Line Ranking and Analysis

With ND's young and inexperienced defensive line, I was pretty interested to see how this particular position preview would unfold. I think we can all be excited about the potential in the Irish sophomore class, not to mention the coaching of Hart and Young, but it's still not a overly big or strong defensive line. If massive offensive lines can continue to shove around the ND defenders, the season will likely fall a few wins short of expectations.

As one might expect, nearly all of the lines facing ND have their own issues to wade through. There are a few teams that are going to field very good offensive lines -- Southern Cal and BC, for starters -- but many others will either be breaking in new starters or adjusting to new coaching and schemes. In fact, Purdue is the only opponent that is probably not going to be starting at least one lineman with zero career starts. Everyone else will have at least one rookie making his first start in September. Michigan's line will continue their learning curve with the spread offense, while UConn's line shifts from run, run, run to a more up-tempo, pass-friendly scheme. Michigan State also has plans to incorporate more passing than in last year's Ringer-fest, and Washington State will continue to work on their no-huddle offense.

But back to comparative sizes for a second: here's an interesting tidbit that may or may not actually mean anything. While every starter on Notre Dame's offensive line is listed at over 3oo pounds (ND's average is a hefty 315 pounds), none of the 12 opponents can make the same claim. Each team has at least one player listed in the 280-295 pound range. Obviously this makes sense for the more spread-style teams (Nevada, Michigan) to have lighter linemen, and teams usually like a somewhat lighter and quicker left tackle, but I found it an interesting factoid in a sport where the players are getting bigger every year. Not that there is much difference between 6'5" 293 pounds and 6'4" 305 pounds, but at the very least ND won't be facing any lines comprised of five 325 pound road graders across the front.

Here's a breakdown of the total career starts of the players listed in this preview as a starter. Playing time is probably a better metric for judging the experience of an offensive line, but starts is the one thing that most schools report so that's what we're stuck with.

# starts by offensive linemen
Boston College - 77
UConn - 73
Southern Cal - 69
Nevada - 69
Washington St. - 67
Washington - 66
Pittsburgh - 62
Michigan - 60
Purdue - 60
Michigan St. - 44
Navy - 32
Stanford - 25

For context, ND has 82 career starts (assuming a starting lineup of Duncan, Stewart, Olsen, Robinson, and Young).

As you can see, a lot of our opponents are somewhere in the middle, with 7 programs having between 60-70 career starts. MSU, Navy, and Stanford are noticeably lower, but it's worth noting that Stanford is the last game of the season, so they will have effectively an entire season's worth of experience by the ND game. (Then again, so will ND's defensive line). Also worth noting that if Chris Marinelli moves back into the starting lineup, which is a reasonable assumption, Stanford's number jumps up to 53.

Looking to rank the lines, I admit it's tough this year. Southern Cal is an easy pick for the top spot. BC is a pretty safe bet for #2. After that you could make a pretty good argument for teams 3 through 8 to move around. The Washingtons are middle of the pack experience wise, but their production last season was so terrible, there's really no other place to rank them for now. What do you think?

1. Southern Cal - A veteran line that was very solid during last season's "rebuilding year".
2. BC
- An experienced and tough BC offensive line shouldn't be a surprise.
3. Pitt - No star players, but a number of experienced vets.
4. Nevada - Lots of returning starters who were very good last season against so-so competition.
5. UConn - Will the returning veterans from last year's prolific line adapt to the new offense?
6. MSU - If the rebuilt left side of the line gels quickly, this ranking may be too low.
7. Michigan
- It's reasonable to expect big strides from last year's terrible effort.
8. Stanford - The line was much improved last season, but now has to work in a few new starters.
9. Navy - A few new starters, but they should be effective running Navy's offense.
10. Purdue - Not quite on par with some of the recent Purdue offensive lines.
11. Washington
- A shift in weights and coaching might improve last year's awful line.
12. Washington State
- In this case, maybe a few new starters is the best thing that could happen.