I made a quick post the other day on the Football board about my three biggest concerns for 2008 and it got a nice little discussion going so I thought I’d flesh out those concerns a little more in a full post over here on the blog.
1. Offensive Line – I don’t think any rationale fan could have a bigger concern for this season than the offensive line. the line was atrocious last year and was about as effective as Major League Baseball’s performance enhancing drug policies during the 90’s. The good news is that four of the five starters are back the year. The bad news is… four of the five starters are back from a unit that allowed 58 sacks in 2007. Honestly, the line can’t be any worse this year, right? Still. This team will only go as far as the line takes it. We have the skill position players to make some big plays, but there won’t be plays to be made if Clausen is on his backside and the running backs can’t find any day light.
Is this the year Sam Young starts to tap into the vast potential he possesses? Young has started every game of his Notre Dame career, but up until this point, he has had more than a few struggles. Injuries have been a problem for him so hopefully a healthy 2008 will mean a new and improved Sam Young. Outside of Young, which of the young OL are ready to step up and start dominating in the trenches? Dan Wenger has shown flashes as have Eric Olsen and Chris Stewart. Can the Irish find a group of five regulars who can get a consistent push up front and keep Jimmy’s jersey clean is the big question though.
2. Defensive Line – Last year Trevor Laws masked the depth issues along the defensive line with a monster year, but this year the lack of recruiting up front at the beginning of the Weis Era could haunt us. Fortunately, we have an outstanding class of defensive linemen coming in this year. Counting on freshmen along either line, however, is never a good thing. According to reports around the net, Bill Lewis has said we will need as many as five freshmen DL to be in the rotation this fall – which is actually all of them – 1. Ethan Johnson, 2. Sean Cywnar, 3. Brandon Newman, 4. Hafis Williams, 5. Kapron Lewis-Moore (Darius Fleming could be a 6th if the staff plays him a DE instead of OLB).
With Pat Kuntz back, the starting lineup should be Ian Williams in the middle with Kuntz and Justin Brown on the ends. That makes a solid, but fairly average group of starters. Early reports are that Ethan Johnson has shown up to campus in great shape – could he step in and start from day one ala Anthony Weaver in 1998? Who knows. All I know for sure is that right now the defensive line situation scares the hell out of me.
3. Kicking Game – Reports out of spring ball where that Brandon Walker was much improved, but in the Blue-Gold game he missed on a long field goal attempt which could have backed those reports up. There will likely be a competition in camp for the place kicking duties, but I would be shocked if Burkhart takes Walker’s spot. The problem, however, is that Weis didn’t feel comfortable enough with any kicker to attempt a 47 yard field goal to beat Navy. Wind or no wind, that is a severe lack of confidence. Assuming the offensive line is improved and the defensive line finds a couple regulars amongst the freshman, this team will need a solid kicker