Three Big Concerns for 2008

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.

sam young41. 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

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  1. Regardless of schedule ND has a confidence problem. I agree w/ run first and the focus on run blocking to establish some attitude and momentum. It has seemed in recent years past other teams have also sensed the confidence problem of the Irish and look to come out and tag them in the nose from the get go. The IRISH must realize this and in order to be successful must establish the run first with fierce blocking up front then look to mix things up. I think Rockne said “Punish them first then they will respect you” Tough – disciplined and nasty….I am still waiting to see that take shape in South Bend. May it be so this year! GO IRISH!

  2. Mike it is about time Notre Dame schedule lightens up a little. How many years in a row is Notre Dame schedule in the top 10 and top 5 toughest schedule

  3. Mike if you want a real joke, check out OHIO STATE’s schedule. Furthermore, check out team schedule rankings you might experience some intellectual discomfort.

    Sorry Pal, your personal assessment is a joke.

  4. @Mike,

    The schedule this year ligthens up, but how in the hell is it close to a Division 2 schedule?

    Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Boston College, USC, and Pitt should all be solid top 25 caliber teams. While schools like Ohio State schedule teams like Youngstown St as their cupcakes, ND schedules games with Syracuse, North Carolina, Navy, Washington, etc – teams in real conferences.

  5. Norte Dame has noting to worry about. They have one of the weakest schedules in College Football. They should win at least 9 or 10 games. They play almost Div 2 teams this year. What a joke.

  6. OK Are O line was not good at all but we seem to forget is they came into last season learning the spread offence. They have nowhere to go but up. I see good things happening this year. GO IRISH

  7. I think and been saying we will have a 7-8 win season. We have talent on this team. We sucks a fat one last year but the entire line is back minus 1. We are stacked at RB and WR and TE. Defense we have a great secondary and lb’s seems decent. Its the D line that scares me the most. I have no clue how your return/kicking game will be. I dont see how they could suck more than last year though.

  8. As long as we field our best players we will have a good year, and that is all you can ever ask for.

    A title? Anything is possible. Especially, with the four and five star players
    we have aquired.

    Yes are there concerns, and it has nothing to do with
    eternal optimism.

    If your a real ND fan you hope for the best no matter what.

  9. Wow DomerDave03, and my brothers accuse me of drinking too much ND coolaid. But I too am optimistic about having super sophomores at all the skilled positions. However, it all begins and ends with the OL. If we can’t block, then we can’t run, pass, score and win as was painfully witnessed last year. Having said that, I am optimistic about the OL. Two seniors and four juniors with experience is almost ideal. Throw in a couple of sophomores and a freshman for depth and we could be in for a surprisingly good season (8 or 9 wins) and maybe a startling good season (10+ wins).

  10. DomerDave03, yes, your post has a number of positives, but I believe you are on the right track. Some people cannot find anything about which to be optimistic. Will we hear from them if you are correct?

  11. It’s funny that I see these concerns as eventual strengths! I think the line will be great this year as they will catch fire along with the rest of the team and start putting people on their backs with some pancakes. I see Young, Olsen and Stewart as great run blockers so as long as we run first pass second and use lots of play action I think we will be fine. However pass blocking I will admit will be a concern. The Dline I think will be excellent this year despite missing Trevor. I think Kuntz and Brown will excell and Ian will be a consistent suprise. And also I think 2 of the Freshman will carry the torch Williams did last year as key Freshman contributors much like Smith and Neal did as well. Finally the kicking game is the only real concern that I have besides the pass blocking of the offensive line. Overall I see us winning a title THIS YEAR!! Although I am an optimist I believe in Jimmy Clausen and I think the running backs will be great along with the receivers as with Parris, Floyd, Tate and Kamarra all putting up great numbers. And I cannot wait to see Mike Ragone take it to the house a couple times this year. Watch out for Ragone Irish faithful he could be a better tightend than Carlson and Fasano! GO IRISH!!

  12. LOL that is funny. We are going to need to improve a ton this year(obviously)

    How about no return game? It never helps a lethargic offense and a strained defense when we cant start past the 30 yard line regularly.

  13. @BigE

    Good points. I will be doing a followup post with “Three Small Concerns for 2008” where I address some more concerns for next year.

    Linebackers are also a big ? this year, especially in the middle of the defense.

  14. 4. Middle Linebackers. With a questionable line, we need big impact MLBs to stop the run.

    5. Wide Receiver. No consistent play makers. How many yards after catch did they have last year? The Shark, Stovall and McNight were consistent threats with every catch. I still smile thinking of how the Shark made the whole Purdue defensive backfield look like the keystone cops on that one beautiful play.

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