Wednesday, August 22, 2007

2007 Opponent Position Preview: Tight Ends/Offensive Line | by Pat

The pretty boys at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver have had their time. Now let's get to the guys that put their hands in the dirt and make the offense go. I will say that previewing the offensive line is one the hardest of all the previews because injuries strike without warning and depth charts are constantly being shuffled in fall camp (BC, I'm looking at you). Likewise, it's hard to truly judge the talent of a lineman, especially those who haven't played against ND for two or three straight years. With that in mind, feedback and opinions are, as always, welcomed and encouraged.


TE - Colin Peek. RS Sophomore. 2006 stats: Redshirted. New Starter.

Colin Peek is the only tight end on the Georgia Tech roster with game experience, but that came in 2005. After playing in nine games as a freshman -- with no receptions -- Peek was redshirted last year as the Yellow Jackets had two senior tight ends who saw all the playing time. Georgia Tech's offense didn't use the tight end very often if at all, but that should change with new OC John Bond. Peek is a tall passing target at 6'6" 250 pounds, but injuries have really slowed down his integration into the new offense. He sat out all of spring practice due to a hip surgery and has missed a number of practices so far this fall as well. Depth: If Peek can't get healthy by the season kickoff with the Irish, the tight end spot will fall to one of two completely inexperienced players. 6'2" 265 pound sophomore Brad Sellers converted from defensive end to tight end right before the Gator Bowl last year and 6'3" 250 pound redshirt freshman Austin Barrack is still learning how to block after playing wide receiver in high school.

LT - Andrew Gardner. (#36 T) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
LG - Matt Rhodes. RS Senior. Returning Starter.
C - Kevin Tuminello. RS Senior. Returning Starter.
RG - Nate McManus. Senior. Returning Starter.
RT - A.J. Smith. RS Junior. New Starter.

The Yellow Jackets return a very experienced line that paved the way for ACC leading rusher Tashard Choice and will be one of the best that the Irish face in 2007. Andrew Gardner (right) will enter his third year as a starter at left tackle and the 6'7" 300 pounder is a dependable veteran when it comes to pass blocking. He has been held out of some contact this fall due to shoulder injury, but should be back for the ND game. Matt Rhodes is entering his fourth year as a starter on the line and is very consistent despite being slightly smaller at 275 pounds. Like Gardner, Kevin Tuminello and Nate McManus are also both coming back as three year starters and will anchor the middle of the line. The one question mark is at right tackle, where last year's backup, A.J. Smith, is currently penciled in as the starter. He's had his arm in a sling for a good portion of fall camp so far though which might affect his chances to start. The right tackle position is going to be pretty important this year for Georgia Tech since quarterback Taylor Bennett is left handed and the right tackle will be protecting his blind side. Depth: If Smith's injuries continue to give him trouble, redshirt junior Jacob Lonowski looks to be the next in line. Baring further injury, expect the starting five to log the vast majority of minutes this year. The rest of the backups have limited experience.


TE - Andrew Quarless. (#21) Sophomore. 2006 stats: 21 receptions, 288 yards, 2 TDs. Returning Starter.

Andrew Quarless (left) began 2006 as a freshman tight end and spent the first seven games of the season only picking up 5 receptions for 66 yards. But he kept improving and becoming a more vital part of the offense as he picked up 218 yards on 14 catches in the final 4 regular season games. Now as a returning starter, Quarless is going to be a huge weapon in the Nittany Lion passing offense and will be one of the faster tight ends that the Irish face. He is one of the most promising young tight ends in the country. There is one issue however as he has run into some discipline problems lately. He's back on the team, but who knows if he'll be completely out of JoePa's doghouse by the ND game. Depth: Mickey Shuler played both fullback and tight end last season but should focus on tight end as a backup to Quarless. He's a bit more of a blocking type of tight end and isn't the threat in the passing game that Quarless is.

LT - Gerald Cadogan. RS Junior. New Starter.
LG - Rich Ohrnberger. RS Junior. Returning Starter.
C - A.Q. Shipley. (#11 C) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
RG - John Shaw. (#51 G) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
RT - Dennis Landolt. RS Sophomore. New Starter.

Penn State lost the anchor of last year's line in Levi Brown and will attempt to replace him with Gerald Cadogan. Cadogan isn't completely inexperienced as he started five games last season at left guard before being replaced. However, playing left tackle is quite different than guard so it will be interesting to see how Cadogan adjusts. He's a bigger left tackle at 313 pounds, so run blocking shouldn't be too much of a problem. Rich Ohrnberger started the final 9 games of the 2006 season at right guard and how has moved over to the starting left guard spot. The most established player on the line, A.Q. Shipley, started every game last season and is the leader of the line. The former defensive tackle will be one of the better centers that the Irish face. John Shaw started the first ten games at right tackle last year but now slides down to guard which is probably a better fit for him. At right tackle, redshirt sophomore Dennis Landolt has seen his expectations take off after a strong showing in the spring and high praise from the coaching staff. Still, he has yet to start at game and hasn't seen all that much time as a backup. Depth: Lou Eliades will continue to battle with Ohrnberger for playing time at left guard, but the redshirt freshman hasn't played a down yet. The rest of the backups are very inexperienced leaving Penn State with not much depth.


TE - Mike Massey. RS Junior. 2006 stats: 8 receptions, 72 yards, 0 TDs. New Starter.

The tight end position is still up in the air thanks to some off-season trouble with the law. As of now, senior Mike Massey is the starter. A bit light relatively speaking at 229 pounds, Massey is actually more of a blocking type than receiving tight end. He missed time in the spring due to injury, but is healthy now. Depth: Redshirt sophomore Carson Butler is actually the one likely to earn the starting spot, but he was kicked off the team back in the spring. After missing spring practice and most of the summer sessions with the team, the sophomore was allowed back on the team in time for fall practice. Whether he's allowed to play or not is still unanswered, but when he gets on the field he's a much better option in the passing game than Massey and a better overall tight end. Last year he had 19 receptions for 166 yards and 1 TD.

LT - Jake Long. (#2 T) Senior. Returning Starter.
LG - Adam Kraus. (#6 G) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
C - Justin Boren. (#19 C) Sophomore. New Starter.
RG - Alex Mitchell. (#36 G) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
RT - Steve Schilling. RS Freshman. New Starter.

The Michigan line is loaded with talent, leadership, and experience on the left side but will rely much more on potential on the right. Jake Long (right) is back for his final season and will be one of, if not the, best tackle in the country. After early struggles with injuries, he's fully healthy and is a very formidable opponent for any d-lineman. Starting left guard Adam Kraus is pretty good as a pass blocker, but excels as a run blocker and has the benefit of 22 starts under his belt at both guard and center. New center Justin Boren is a very talented player who started at right guard for a game last year as a freshman. The 6'3" 310 pound sophomore will probably make a few rookie mistakes, but he has sky-high expectations. Alex Mitchell is so far the leading candidate to start out at right guard, where he started 12 games last year. He is injured a bit though and this might affect his status for the ND game. The biggest question mark however is at right tackle. Highly recruited redshirt freshman Steve Schilling sat out last year due to injury and illness but now is in a tight battle for the starting right tackle job. Depth: Schilling's competition is junior Mark Ortmann and redshirt freshman Perry Dorrstein. Regardless of which one gets the job early in the season, Schilling is the long term solution. Fighting Alex Mitchell for the right guard spot is redshirt junior Jeremy Ciulla and freshman David Molk (high school teammate of ND linebacker Aaron Nagel). David Moosman was in contention for the starting center spot, but lost out in the spring to Boren.


TE - Kellen Davis. Senior. 2006 stats: 12 receptions, 125 yards, 1 TD. Returning Starter.

Like the Michigan State team overall, Kellen Davis (left) didn't put up numbers equal to his talent. He's a big tight end at 6'6", 255 pounds and fast for his position. But only put up mediocre numbers last year. Part of that was due to the Spartan offense and part of that was due to Davis getting suspended for a handful of games for an off-the-field fight. Depending on which Davis shows up this year, he could be a very physical force -- remember the TD pass he caught against ND in 2005 while getting knocked unconscious -- or he could remain the inconsistent player he has been for much of his career. Depth: Former linebacker Eric Andino will push Davis and possibly see time in two tight end sets. Until now he's primarly been a blocker, but as he becomes more familiar with the tight end position he could see his role as a receiver increase.

LT - Mike Gyetvai. (#43 T) Senior. Returning Starter.
LG - Pete Clifford. Senior. New Starter.
C - John Masters. Senior. New Starter.
RG - Roland Martin. (#23 G) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
RT - Jesse Miller. RS Junior. Returning Starter.

Mike Gyetvai is the returning starter at left tackle, but after off-season shoulder surgery and missing all of spring practice, he's slowly being worked back into the offense. Pete Clifford could start at left guard, but he's also currently listed as a co-starter at left tackle with Gyetvai. Last year the massive 6'7" 313 pounder started 4 games at left tackle and 3 at guard so he does have experience at both and technically isn't a new starter. John Masters isn't really a new starter either as he did fill in as the starting center in the final three games of last season. He should build on that experience and be a decent man in the middle for the Spartans. Roland Martin is the former all-everything recruit and finally seems to have put it together. He started all 12 games last year and is expected to use his sizable 6'5" 328 pound frame to open up plenty of holes in the running game. Jesse Miller is another Spartan player that was forced into action last year due to injury but that experience should help him play even better in 2007. Depth: Rocco Cironi saw some time last year at tackle and earned Big Ten All-Freshman honors. If Gyetvai, Clifford, or Miller need a breather, he should be able to step in. Kenny Shane started three games last year and will provide a bit more depth at the guard position.


TE - Dustin Keller. (#9) Senior. 2006 stats: 56 receptions, 771 yards, 4 TDs. Returning Starter.

Most of Dustin Keller's production -- the most by far of any 2007 tight end opponent -- is due to the nature of the Purdue offense. But Keller is a very good athlete in his own right and very quick in the open field. He was actually leading Purdue in receiving until the Notre Dame game, so QB Painter clearly considers him a quality target. At 240 pounds he's not a great blocker, but he's not usually called upon to do much blocking. He did miss the spring due to a shoulder surgery, but should be fine for this season. Depth: With Keller out in the spring, sophomore Kyle Adams stepped up to the #1 spot and did enough to likely earn a few more passes thrown his way in 2007.

LT - Sean Sester. (#17 T) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
LG - Eric Hedstrom. RS Sophomore. New Starter.
C - Robbie Powell. (#26 C) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
RG - Jordan Grimes. (#2 G) Senior. Returning Starter.
RT - Elliot Hood. RS Senior. New Starter.

ND failed to notch a single sack against Purdue last season and the Boilermakers finished 22nd in the nation in sacks allowed. But they lost a few players and will need to fill some holes at guard and tackle. Sean Sester (right) has been a two year starter at right tackle, but was recently moved to left tackle. The move is presumably permanent with the 6'7" 325 pound Sester becoming one of the bigger left tackles on the schedule. He's a veteran player, but switching from the right side to the left is never easy. Sophomore Eric Hedstrom is currently listed as the starting left guard, but Purdue coaches have mentioned that there may be more moves before the season starts. Hedstrom has only appeared in limited action in two games so he's about as inexperienced as they come. Robbie Powell is in his final year at Purdue and is a solid veteran presence and has the best spring of all the lineman. The 6'3" 325 pound Jordan Grimes is a punishing run blocker with 26 career starts and is one of the better guards in the nation. Replacing Sean Sester at right tackle is Vanderbilt transfer Elliot Hood. Hood started six games in his four years at Vandy as an injury replacement at right tackle and now the graduate student transfer will attempt to hold down Purdue's right tackle spot. Depth: Garrett Miller was expected to be the starting left tackle, but injury issues have kept him off the practice field for the spring and into the fall so the coaches made the move with Sester. If Hedstrom has some trouble, Purdue will turn to another massive guard in the shape of 6'4" 335 pound redshirt freshman Justin Pierce.


TE - Logan Paulsen. (#13) Junior. 2006 stats: 27 receptions, 331 yards, 0 TDs. Returning Starter.

Logan Paulsen had a strong debut season at tight end for the Bruins and his role in the offense should expand in 2007. In a bit of a departure from what receivers usually do against the Irish, the game against ND was only one of two on the year where Paulsen didn't record a reception. Paulsen's blocking was decent last year and should only get better this season. Depth: Ryan Moya saw the ball a few times last year (12 receptions for 126 yards) and could combine with Paulsen in two tight end sets. He'll have to work on his blocking though as at 230 pounds he still a bit more of an oversized receiver.

LT - Micah Kia. Sophomore. New Starter.
LG - Shannon Tevaga. (#14 G) Senior. Returning Starter.
C - Chris Joseph. Senior. Returning Starter.
RG - Noah Sutherland. RS Senior. Returning Starter.
RT - Brian Abraham. Senior. Returning Starter.

Shannon Tevaga
(left) is the leader of the Bruin line, but has been battling shoulder and wrist injuries in fall camp. It's expected that he will be able to play, but the injuries might bother him all season. Still, with 31 games started, Tevaga is an experienced veteran with enough bulk (313 pounds) to hold off most opposing lineman. Lining up next to Tevaga is a very promising young player in Micah Kia. The sophomore beat out returning starter Aleksey Lanis, who will have to earn playing time elsewhere on the line. Kia hasn't played anything other than special teams yet so it might be a bit of a rocky transition at left tackle, but by the time ND rolls into town, he should have cut down on many of the mistakes most rookie lineman make. Big things are expected of him in the future. Chris Joseph started every game at right guard last season but has shifted to snap the ball for the Bruins in 2007. Noah Sutherland likewise has moved inside as he will start at right guard after starting every game last year at weak tackle (UCLA used to flip the tackles depending on the strong (tight end) side, but will stick with a pure left and right tackle this season). Rounding out the starters is right tackle Brian Abraham, who was a reserve all last year after starting nine games at tackle in 2005. Depth: The previously mentioned Aleksey Lanis (#25 T) is a versatile lineman who should pop up somewhere along the line as a quality backup.


TE - Ryan Thompson. RS Senior. 2006 stats: 12 receptions, 141 yards, 0 TDs. Returning Starter.

Although listed as the starter, Ryan Thompson only pulled in a reception in half of BC's games last year. The tight end wasn't a major part of the BC offense and while that likely change, Thompson still might not be a main target of Matt Ryan. It will be interesting to see if he turns into more of a productive player in the passing game. Depth: Listed backup Ryan Purvis actually did have a much more productive season as a receiver by pulling in 26 receptions for 381 yards and 2 TDs. Like Thompson he's an average blocker, which might the reason he was a backup last year. Jon Loyte is a better blocker, but only caught 6 passes last year. On the other hand, two of them went for touchdowns.

LT - Gosder Cherilus. (#9 T) RS Senior. Returning Starter.
LG - Ryan Poles. RS Senior. Returning Starter.
C - Matt Tennant. RS Sophomore. New Starter.
RG - Tom Anevski. Senior. New Starter.
RT - Anthony Castonzo. Freshman. New Starter.

Boston College is known for its offensive line although there are a few questions about this year's version. After losing their brand new offensive line coach early in the spring, the transition to zone blocking hasn't been all that smooth. Gosder Cherilus (right) is the headliner of the group and will transition to the left side after starting at right tackle for an impressive 37 straight games. At 6'7" 320 pounds he's another massive left tackle. Ryan Poles has seen time as a backup in the OL rotation the past two seasons and now inherits the left guard spot. Matt Tennant only saw limited backup duty last year, but with strong play in the spring and into the fall has earned the starting center spot. Like Poles, Tom Anevski is a former backup with a decent amount of playing time now stepping up to the role of starter. The right tackle spot is still being decided, although in a rather surprising development true freshman Anthony Castonzo appears to have the edge for now. At 6'7" 262 pounds he's rather light compared to most right tackles, so he may struggle initially. Depth: If Castonzo stumbles a bit out of the gate, former ND recruit Pat Sheil looks to be next in line to hold down the right edge of the Eagle line. Cliff Ramsey was in the lead for the starting right tackle position, but was just recently switched to backup right guard. Kevin Sheridan (#36) started 10 games last year at center for the Eagles, but it appears he has lost his starting spot to Tennant. If Tennant or one of the guards struggle, look for Sheridan to be the first off the bench.


TE - Fred Davis. (#5) Senior. 2006 stats: 38 receptions, 352 yards, 3 TDs. Returning Starter.

After a few years slowly adapting to tight end from his high school position of receiver, Fred Davis had a bit of a breakout year last year and is poised to have an even more productive 2007. Always strong, he's added more weight which will help him as a blocker. With only 5 career touchdown receptions -- two against Stanford -- he's yet to become a big scoring threat, but that's mostly a function of SC's offense and the multitude of other talented offensive options with names like Bush, Jarrett, and Smith. Depth: Senior Dale Thompson is a better blocking tight end than Davis, but isn't nearly the threat in the passing game. Sophomore Anthony McCoy will likely see some action as this is the final season for Davis and Thompson.

LT - Sam Baker (#3 T). RS Senior. Returning Starter.
LG - Jeff Byers. (#41 G) RS Junior. New Starter.
C - Matt Spanos. RS Junior. New Starter.
RG - Chilo Rachal. (#9 G) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
RT - Drew Radovich.(#46 T) RS Senior. Returning Starter.

The Trojan line is loaded this season with two-time All-American Sam Baker (left) leading the way. Like Michigan's Jake Long, he's the ideal left tackle that is equally dominant as a run or pass blocker. He has been nicked up a bit during fall camp with a cracked rib. It will be interesting to see if that injury is the type that bothers him during the season. He's been an iron-man for the Trojans though, starting every single game the past three seasons at left tackle. Lining up next to Baker is former all-everything recruit Jeff Byers. Byers has lost two full seasons to injuries but is finally healthy and in line to start. He has plenty of talent, but it's always tough to return from multiple season-ending injuries. Center Matt Spanos, along with Byers, is the only other new starter on the line. Replacing All-American Ryan Kahil, Spanos is a career backup who has played every position on the line and missed all of last season due to academics. He is extremely strong, but his inexperience might lead to a few mistakes here and there. Chilo Rachal had a strong 2006 in his first full year as a starter and is expected to continue to be a force as a run blocker. Injuries have had an impact at the right tackle position so far in the fall. Returning starter Drew Radovich has yet to practice this fall due to a back injury. Depth: With Radovich still out, sophomore Charles Brown, a converted tight end, started out fall camp as the first string right tackle but shifted to left tackle while Baker was out with his injury. He might slide back to first string right tackle when Baker returns or might remain a backup during the season. Thomas Herring (#33 T) has been filling in as the first string right tackle with Radovich out and Brown over at left tackle. Massive at 6'6" 330 pounds, Herring has yet to live up to his lofty recruiting billing. Senior Alanti Malu is likely the next in line if Byers can't stay healthy and at 330 pounds is another sizable lineman. One-time ND recruit redshirt freshmen Butch Lewis has also had a strong fall camp and will provide depth at both tackle and guard.



Navy's offense does not include a tight end, which makes this section incredibly easy to write.

LT - Josh Meek. Senior. Returning Starter.
LG - Anthony Gaskins. Junior. New Starter.
C - Antron Harper. Senior. Returning Starter.
RG - Ben Gabbard. Senior. New Starter.
RT - Andrew McGinn. Junior. Returning Starter.

Navy's offensive line typically makes up in grit, effort, and technique what it lacks in size. However, this year Navy's line has a number of players with enough bulk that the "undersized" tag doesn't completely apply. Antron Harper (right) is the leader of the line and has shifted to center from the right guard spot he had held down the past two seasons. He's also bulked up to around 275 pounds, which is over 15 pounds more than what he played at last year. Replacing Harper at right guard is 280-pound Anthony Gaskins, who hasn't started a game yet but has seen a decent amount of game action. Senior Josh Meek started the first seven games at right tackle last year before tearing his ACL. At 275 pounds he's also big enough to hold his own, but he's still not that far removed from his knee injury and now that he's shifted to left tackle his mobility will certainly be tested. Andrew McGinn replaced Meek at right tackle last season and is back again in 2007. He is the lightest Midshipmen lineman at 255 pounds. The biggest is new starting guard Ben Gabbard, who checks in at 6'4" 297 pounds. It is his first year as a starter, but he has played in many games as a backup so he has a decent amount of experience. When Navy wants to pick up a few yards up the middle, it's a safe bet that they'll run behind Gabbard. Depth: Paul Bridgers saw plenty of reps in the spring at tackle and won the most improved award. The rest of the reserves are very inexperienced, but there are a number of 270+ pound options so Navy won't be forced to play underclassmen backups that are 50+ pounds lighter than their opponents.


TE - Travis Dekker. Senior. 2006 stats: 4 receptions, 40 yards, 1 TD. Returning Starter.

Travis Dekker was primarily a blocker last year for Air Force although he is expected to see more passes thrown his way in 2007. As is the case with many Air Force players, he's going to have to adjust and adapt to the new pass friendly offense. Depth: Junior Keith Madsen and senior Chris Evans are next in line at tight end, but neither have caught a pass yet in college. Evans split time between defensive end last year as well.

LT - Chris Monson. Senior. New Starter.
LG - Nick Charles. Sophomore. Returning Starter.
C - Blaine Guenther. Senior. Returning Starter.
RG - Caleb Morris. Senior. New Starter.
RT - Chris Campbell. Sophomore. New Starter.

The Air Force line is undergoing a relearning of the position this year as for the first time they have to work harder on pass-blocking, especially when the quarterback is in the shotgun. Blaine Guenther is the only returning full-time starter on the line and even he has shifted from his normal right tackle position to center. Filling in at right tackle for now is sophomore Chris Campbell, who played on the junior varsity team last year and is only hovering around 250 pounds. At left tackle, Chris Monson is listed as the starter after playing defensive tackle last season. He switched over in the spring so he does have a few practices at OL under his belt, but that's about it. Nick Charles does have experience as he started six games last year as a freshman. He's also the biggest Falcon lineman at around 280 pounds. Caleb Morris has been fighting through injuries the past few years but for now is healthy. However, the last time he started a game was as a freshman in 2004 so he might be a bit rusty initially. Depth: Senior Dan Holder might be the starter at one of the tackle positions by the ND game, but for now is out with a knee injury. Junior Andrew Pipes is a center prospect who would move into the starting lineup if Guenther switches back to tackle or guard.


TE - Nick Stefanow. RS Senior. 2006 stats: 10 receptions, 113 yards, 1 TD. Returning Starter.

At 6'4" 235 pounds, Nick Stefanow definitely falls in the "jumbo-receiver" bin of tight end classifications rather than the "additional lineman" category. Back for his senior year he should progress as a blocker, but he will still likely have trouble with defensive linemen and bigger linebackers. He should see his reception total rise this season as his 2006 total was affected by a mid-season injury that limited his effectiveness for a handful of games. Depth: Brandon King was mentioned in the running backs preview but he also moonlights at tight end and is a more physical blocker than Stefanow. At 260 pounds, he's also better equipped to deal with defensive linemen. Redshirt freshman Brett Huffman is another blocking type tight end who will have to work on his receiving game in order to be a big threat in the passing game.

LT - Cameron Goldberg. RS Junior. Returning Starter.
LG - Zach Maurides. RS Senior. Returning Starter.
C - Matt Rumsey. Senior. Returning Starter.
RG - Rob Schirmann. RS Junior. Returning Starter.
RT - Fred Roland. RS Junior. Returning Starter.

Duke's offensive line was extremely young and inexperienced last year, which led to finishing 115th out of 119 teams in the nation in sacks allowed. All five players return so the line should be better, but by how much is the big question. The offensive output did improve throughout the year so it's reasonable to expect continued improvement into 2007. Still, that might not be enough to produce a big jump in the win column. Left tackle Cameron Goldberg was one of the most consistent linemen last season although at 6'6" 280 pounds he relies on his athleticism and long arms rather than a big frame to pass block. Zach Maurides and Rob Schirmann are back at the guard position, but they will need to improve their run blocking if Duke wants to an uptick in last year's 2.86 yards per rush average. In the center, Matt Rumsey is the most experienced member of the line and is entering his third year as a starter. Fred Roland on the right side of the line has both long arms and a big frame at 6'8" 310 pounds, but he's still working on being more consistent. Depth: Pushing Roland is sophomore Jarrod Holt who just might take over the starting job by the end of the season. If either Maurides or Schirmann falter, redshirt freshmen Marcus Lind and Mitchell Ledemann (a manchild at 6'8" 320 pounds) are the next in line.


TE - Jim Dray. RS Sophomore. 2006 stats: 19 receptions, 178 yards, 1 TD. Returning Starter.

Jim Dray tied two other players with 19 receptions last season; good for second on the team. He was tossed into the starting role after redshirting his freshman year so all things being considered he did a pretty decent job. He has prototypical size at 6'5" 255 pounds and should continue to mature and develop into a pretty decent tight end. Depth: Sophomore Ben Ladner has been having a very strong fall camp and will see time at tight end along with Dray. However, with the career ending injury to starting fullback Emeka Nnoli, Ladner will see time at fullback as well. Will Powers, who started four games at outside linebacker last year, was suddenly switched to tight end at the start of fall camp. It will take him time to adjust to a new side of the ball, but he's extremely athletic and could be a contributor by the time ND rolls into town.

LT - Allen Smith. (#53 T) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
LG - Mikal Brewer. RS Senior. New Starter.
C - Tim Mattran. 6th year Senior. Returning Starter.
RG - Alex Fletcher. (#24 G) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
RT - Ben Muth. RS Junior. New Starter.

One of the very few lines that Duke outperformed, Stanford's offensive line finished dead last out of 119 teams when it came to sacks allowed last season with a whopping 50. Most of the players are a year older, stronger, and wiser, but Stanford returned five starters in 2006 and look what happened. Still, with a coaching change, it's possible the line production will perk up as there is talent on the roster. Left tackle Allen Smith (left) has started twenty games and is a very athletic left tackle. However, he has been a bit too passive when it comes to blocking. A more aggressive attitude could turn him into one of the conference's better blockers. Alex Fletcher is another former top recruit and will shift back to guard after playing center last season. Like Smith, he has NFL potential but needs to improve on his production on the field. Tim Mattran is back after a medical redshirt last season provided him with the rare sixth year of eligibility. He did start six games in 2005 so he does have some game experience to lean on while he shakes off the rust. Mikal Brewer has been a backup until starting the final three games at center last year when Fletcher went down with injury. Now at guard he'll try to hold down the starting job all year. The right tackle position is still a bit in the air. Career backup redshirt junior Ben Muth is the leader for now, but that could change as the big 6'6" 300 pound tackle has an injury that's currently keeping him out of practice. Depth: With Muth out, Chris Marinelli has finally recovered from an injury that kept him out all spring and the 6'7" 305 pound redshirt sophomore will battle Muth for the starting gig. Both tackles will likely play throughout the season. Pushing Mikal Brewer at the left guard spot is newly converted defensive tackle Gustav Rydstedt. Rydstedt hasn't started yet on defense, but he has seen action as part of a rotation in the past 20 games.

2007 Tight End Analysis and Ranking

For all of its defensive shortcomings last season, Notre Dame was very effective at limiting the impact of opposing tight ends. Now, most programs don't feature the tight end as an integral part of the offense the way that ND does, but only two tight ends caught a touchdown pass against ND. UCLA's William Snead ran through a bad tackle attempt to pick up a score and Army's Tim Dunn caught one in garbage time against ND's backups and senior walk-ons.

This season should be more of the same as there just aren't very many noteworthy tight ends on the schedule. Dustin Keller from Purdue will get the ball plenty of times, but ND has had his number so far in his career (2 games, 5 receptions, 36 yards). Both tight ends named Davis, Fred from Southern Cal and Kellen from Michigan State, have NFL size and speed but so far have been afterthoughts in their respective programs. I do think that Andrew Quarless is in line for a breakout year of sorts, but again he's far from a proven threat.

Defensively, it will be interesting to see how the new linebackers perform in pass coverage against the tight ends. Mo Crum has shown he can do it, but the rest are largely unproven in pass coverage. Last year Zibby spent many a down shadowing the tight end -- he's the main reason ND shut down Keller -- but I'm not sure how Corwin Brown plans on using him this season. If he does resume duty against opposing tight ends, look for their production to stay depressed.

Rankings-wise, I put them in order as I usually do, but I think I'm going to mix it up when I do the final rankings post and combine them with the wide receivers. Otherwise the tight end rankings is of equal weight to that of the QB and OL and that just doesn't match reality.

1. USC - Fred Davis has the ability to be a dominant TE if they throw him the ball.
2. Purdue - Dustin Keller will continue to put up impressive numbers for a tight end.
3. Penn State - Quarless should build off of last year's strong debut.
4. Michigan - Expect Carson Butler to take over for Massey and be a dependable option for Henne.
5. Michigan State - Davis has the ability, but needs to focus on staying out of trouble.
6. Stanford - Dray is an athletic tight end and there are some promising players behind him.
7. UCLA - Paulsen won't scare teams, but he has experience and should be a better blocker.
8. Boston College - BC did have a decent amount of production from their tight ends last season.
9. Duke - Stefanow can catch, but he'll need to improve his blocking to be an all-around contributor.
10. Air Force - Dekker has a chance to do more in the new offense.
11. Georgia Tech - The only player with any experience at all is currently injured.
12. Navy - No tight end means even I can't screw up this ranking.

2007 Offensive Line Analysis and Ranking

Of all the positions I preview this year, I think this one is the most important. Why? Because if ND's new and inexperienced defensive line can't hold their ground to start games, teams are going to run, and then pass, all over the Irish all season long. And Notre Dame lacks the type of offense to make up large deficits on the scoreboard this season. With that in mind, a quick scan of the OL rosters shows two extremely talented teams, albeit with a few question marks, in Southern Cal and Michigan, two extremely veteran lines in Georgia Tech and UCLA, and an assortment of tough, veteran linemen playing on lines with a mix of youth and experience. It is far from a murderer's row of offensive lines this season, but there are a solid core of talented lines that will give ND's new 3-4 front a tough test.

Perhaps the most important position on the offensive line is left tackle, but before I take a closer look at those blind side protectors, I want to focus on the centers. ND's starting nose tackle Pat Kuntz has been the subject of much chatter due to his lack of prototypical nose tackle size. He's a fiery player and will fight to the bitter end, but that only gets you so far. Will he mixing it up with a steady stream of strong,veteran centers? The answer is...sort of. Eight teams feature returning starters at center, but four of them are named Duke, Stanford, Navy, and Air Force. The big two, Michigan and Southern Cal, are breaking in new centers this year, which is good news for Kuntz. Both Spanos and Boren, especially Boren, should be good players, but inexperience is inexperience. Georgia Tech, Penn State, and Purdue on the other hand return talented and battle-tested leaders. With Tech and PSU being the first two games, we should get an immediate gauge on Kuntz's suitability to man the middle. Of course, I don't expect Kuntz to do it all himself and I expect freshman Ian Williams to get some time in the trenches as well.

Now, getting back to those left tackles, ND will face two of the very best in the nation in Jake Long and Sam Baker. Both are sure-fire 1st round NFL draft picks. After them, seven more starters are back for another go-round. But there is something interesting to note. Both BC's Gosder Cherlius and Purdue's Sean Sester are listed as likely early round NFL picks, but both are shifting over to left tackle after spending their first few years at right tackle. They have the size, but do they have the feet and athleticism to be as effective on the left side of the line? And as noted earlier, Georgia Tech's talented left tackle Andrew Gardner is back, but new QB Taylor Bennet is left-handed, meaning rookie starter A.J. Smith will be watching his back. It isn't much, but the transition might not be seamless for those three teams.

I expect ND to keep sending blitz after blitz from the edges against opposing tackles this season and there is just enough inexperience and lack of positional familiarity (outside of Baker and Long that is) to hopefully make things interesting for ND fans and uncomfortable for opposing quarterbacks.

With all that being said, here's my list of the top offensive lines. Michigan and Southern Cal are in a tier all their own with Tech and UCLA on the second level. After that, Purdue, Penn State, and BC are in a similar boat of mixing talented seniors with inexperienced newly minted starters. The rest could surprise --especially Michigan State -- but likely shouldn't be the challenge that the others will be.

1. Michigan - A solid mix of All-American talent, experience, and talented newcomers.
2. Southern Cal - Just the slightest bit behind Michigan. A healthy Byers will be a big boost.
3. Georgia Tech - Nothing special, but a very veteran and established line.
4. UCLA - Like Tech, a veteran line although they did struggle a bit at times last season.
5. Purdue - Sester and Powell are two talents, but the new starters are a bit of a question mark.
6. Penn State - If they come together in a hurry, they could be a very tough line for ND to face.
7. Boston College - Some interesting moves by Coach Jag so close to kickoff. But Cherilus is very good.
8. Michigan State - Roland Martin will be the one they run behind all year long.
9. Stanford - Talent in spots and experience, but the past production is pretty ugly.
10. Navy - The quick and tough line is getting bigger and stronger.
11. Duke - Like Stanford, returning experience that produces a very subpar effort in 2006.
12. Air Force - Plenty of new starters and the best player has shifted from tackle to center.