At the end of the day, none of the other position groups matter much if the O-line doesn’t establish a line of scrimmage. Without lanes, the running game stagnates and depends upon defensive miscues. Without an adequate pocket, the quarterback cannot progress to the open receiver or intelligently choose to advance the ball with his feet. Without communication and discipline, the offensive line foments flags, sacks, and blown-up plays.
Notre Dame was able to win, early, last season, despite an uncharacteristic unease along the offensive line. Coach Harry Heistand undertook a fairly significant shuffle as the Irish headed into the Syracuse game and the feeling that things were not settled never really went away, especially as the other position groups began falling apart to some extent or other.
2015’s success will depend upon, in very large part, whether or not the O-line plays at it did in, say, the Music City Bowl or as it did against, say, Arizona State. In the Music City Bowl, against LSU, the Irish line kept the chains moving and the quarterback clean, for the most part, and lead the way to an improbable win over an SEC West opponent. So, without further ado, please, if you will, this:
The Irish: Harry Heistand knows how to recruit and to keep the larder full. Young talents like Mike McGlinchey, a monster at tackle, are interspersed with veterans like Nick Martin, so that whatever last year’s disquiet may have been, you get the sense that the O-line can only be so bad. A massive reason to believe that the O-line will perform well is the presence of Ronnie Stanley, arguably the best NFL-prospect in some time and rather likely the best player on the roster. That he chose not to enter the draft speaks to his hunger to contend for a championship and his belief that this year’s team is special.
Stanley is likely going to be the top offensive lineman in the 2016 NFL draft. At 6’5.5″ and 315 pounds, he’s a massive piece of real-estate. That, alone, makes him mentionable. His footwork and endurance make him remarkable. Stanley is agile and able to slide between the fastest of defensive players and the quarterback. As a blocker, he’s just punishing. If he stays healthy, he’ll go higher than Nick Martin or last season’s top O-lineman, Stanford’s Andrus Peat.
The Enemy: Going through the opponents, it’s clear that the Irish will face some great O-lines this season. Of them, Stanford and USC are at the top. Out of them, USC’s Max Tuerk is likely the best.
Tuerk is a senior and three-year starter and has played every position along the line, earning him the sobriquet, “most versatile.” You’d be forgiven for thinking that meant he could make fifty different cocktails from memory.
Tuerk is an All-Everything center and at 6’6″ and 285 pounds he has the mass to gum up the works in the middle. Don’t be surprised to see his wingspan and agility on full display when Jaylon and Jerry come calling on Troy.
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