Sunday, August 30, 2009

Preview Reviews | by Pat

Every summer we like to take a look back at the top recruits coming out of high school from four years ago, and see how they're doing going into their senior year. With all of the discussions of 5-star versus 3-star, it's fun and sometimes even enlightening to look at how the cream of the crop are doing as they wind down their college careers. It also gives you a few names to look out for in the upcoming season.

This is our fifth annual Top 50 "look back" -- click here for the 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 editions -- so it will be interesting to keep an eye on some of the trends we have seen emerge over the past few years. Are Top 50 offensive linemen still a crapshoot? Will roughly 40% of the 5-star types turn into stars while the other 60% turn into situational players, injury casualties, or complete busts?

Let's review the scoring system at work here, and how we came up with the consensus top 50:

  • Final top 100 lists were gathered from and
  • The rankings were converted into points by giving a recruit (101-x) points, where x represented his ranking. The #1 recruit would therefore receive 100 points, and the #100 recruit would receive 1 point.
  • Players who were not ranked on a list were automatically assigned a 125th place ranking, which converted to negative points.
  • The total points for each recruit were compared, and ties were broken by the highest ranking on any individual list.
  • In the parentheses following each player's name are his individual list rankings (Rivals, Scout).
We also added a color code to the list to classify the booms and the busts. Blue means the guy at the minimum is an all-conference level multi-year contributor, bordering on being one of the better players in college. Yellow (or close to it) means the jury's still out; for whatever reason -- maybe because of an injury, a talented veteran player ahead of him, an academic issue, or time spent at a JUCO -- the guy hasn't made the expected impact yet, but still has some eligibility left to redeem his ranking. Red means the player had his chance, but simply hasn't panned out like one might expect for a Top 50 recruit. Lastly, the higher the ranking, the greater the expectations: two players may have similar statistics, but the higher ranked player may be yellow while the lower ranked one is blue.

#1 Chris Wells, RB - Ohio State (3,1)
Wells started his Buckeye career as the backup to Antonio Pittman, but still played in every game and was the team's second leading rusher. By his sophomore year he was the starter and churned out over 1,600 yards on his way to first team All-Big Ten honors. His junior year he struggled through some injuries that cost him three games, but was still the team's leading rusher and MVP. Declaring early for the draft, the Arizona Cardinals took him in the 1st round with the 31st overall pick.

#2 Andre Smith, OT - Alabama
The 6'4" 330 pound behemoth lived up to his #2 billing by becoming 'Bama's starting left tackle from Day 1 and becoming a multiple year All-American. He wound up starting every single game during his three years on campus save the last one, when he was suspended for dealing with an agent. That error, combined with some rumors about work ethic weren't enough to deter the NFL though as the Bengals made him the #6 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

#3 Gerald McCoy, DT - Oklahoma (4,4)
ND fans remember well the recruiting chase for McCoy, only to fall short to the Sooners. His first year on campus he redshirted, but was an instant impact as a sophomore, starting every game at DT and earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. His junior year he was named a 2nd Team AP All-American and briefly considered leaving for the NFL .With two more years of eligibility, it is expected he will have another All-American type season in 2009 and then head off to the pros as a likely 1st round pick.

#4 Percy Harvin, WR - Florida (1,8)
Harvin saw action right away for the Gators despite injuries costing him some playing time in the middle of the season. He was named MVP of the SEC Championship game and won the SEC Freshman of the Year award. Nagging injuries affected him the next two years, but he was still a key player in Florida's title run and was named 2nd Team AP All-American as an all-purpose player. He then declared for the NFL and, despite testing positive for majiuana at the NFL Combine, was a 1st round draftee with the Minnesota Vikings taking him with the #22 overall pick.

#5 Sergio Kindle, LB - Texas (5,6)
Kindle's career at Texas hasn't gone completely to plan with injuries and a DUI suspension costing him a handful of games the past three seasons. He didn't crack the starting lineup until his junior year, where he started 11 games at linebacker and defensive end and wound up being named 2nd Team All-Big 12 by the AP. There are high expectations for his play heading into his final season, but he'll need to avoid the injury bug and any more driving incidents. In addition to his DUI arrest before his sophomore year, Kindle crashed his car into an apartment complex last month.

#6 Vidal Hazelton, WR - Southern Cal to Cincinnati (7,5)
Hazelton played right away for the Trojans, but only caught one pass his freshman year. That all changed in 2007 when he started nine games and led the team in receptions by a receiver. Injuries hit him in 2008 and a published letter from his father criticizing the coaching staff for the way they handled his son's injuries didn't help Vidal's chances of staying near the top of the depth chart. He decided to transfer to Cincinnati where he sat out the 2008 season, roomed with Demetrious Jones, and has two years of eligibility left for the Bearcats.

#7 Sam Young, OT - Notre Dame (11,3)
The first Irish player on the list, and only the fourth overall in the five years we have been doing these Top 50 recaps, Young was an instant starter for ND and was a 1st Team Freshman All-American in 2006. In fact, he has started every single game he's been on campus at both right and left tackle. Now entrenched at right tackle, Young largely has been lumped in with an underachieving offensive line. I went back and forth on giving him a blue or yellow color. The expectations should be high for a Top 10 recruit. Still, it's hard to say the jury is still out on a player that has been on the field for all but a small handful of snaps over his career.

#8 Matthew Stafford, QB - Georgia (6,11)
Stafford broke into the starting lineup his freshman year and never let go, starting the next 34 games. His passing numbers improved every year and he was named 2nd Team All-SEC after his junior year in 2008. Projected as a very high pick, he entered the NFL Draft and wound up the #1 overall pick by the Detroit Lions.

#9 Myron Rolle, S - Florida State (12,7)
Rolle only took two games to become a starter in FSU's defensive backfield and was a 1st Team Freshman All-American. At the end of his junior year, he was named a 3rd Team AP All-American and a Rhodes Scholar. As he graduated from FSU in only 2.5 years, he announced that he would spend his 2009 season studying in Oxford and will return to the States to enter the 2010 NFL Draft.

#10 Mitch Mustain, QB - Arkansas to Southern Cal (10,10)
Mustain started eight games as a freshman for the Razorbacks and won them all, but coaching issues led him to transfer to the Trojans. After sitting out the 2007 season, he was a backup in 2008 and was third on the depth chart for 2009 at the conclusion of spring ball. Mustain still has two years of eligibility left, but with the freshman Matt Barkley getting the starting nod to start the 2009 season, Mustain's chances of becoming a starter are extremely low.

#11 C.J. Spiller, RB - Clemson (8,16)
Spiller nearly cracked the 1,000 yard rushing mark as a freshman and hasn't looked back. Last year he was named 1st Team All-ACC as a kick returner and 2nd Team as a running back. Only 921 yards away from being the ACC's all-time all-purpose yards leader, the extremely fast Spiller is a definite All-American candidate and likely high draft pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

#12 Brandon Graham, DE - Michigan (15,14)
Although playing in 11 games his freshman year, Graham only had 3 tackles. That number jumped the following years as he started five games in 2007 and then 11 in 2008. Last season he was 2nd in the nation in tackles for loss and 7th in sacks. Voted the team MVP and 2nd Team All-Big Ten following his junior year, Graham is poised for a big year in his final year of eligibilty.

#13 Stafon Johnson, RB - Southern Cal (18,13)
Southern Cal's deep and talented depth chart at running back has limited Johnson to only one career start so far. But that's not to say he hasn't had an impact. In 2007 he was the team's second leading rusher and last season he led the team in rushing and was also the top punt returner. It might be another year of running back by committee, but Johnson is headed towards a high NFL draft pick when he is done. On nearly any other team he would have been a multi-year feature back.

#14 Al Woods, DT - LSU (20,12)
A huge defensive tackle at 6'4" 323 pounds, Woods has been in the DL rotation since his freshman year. However, he has only started two games in the past three seasons. He has one year left and is positioned to finally be a starter so with a strong year he can still turn into an all-conference type player, but it's taken him longer than most LSU fans would have liked to get to this point.

#15 Allen Bradford, LB - Southern Cal (9,28)
Although listed as a linebacker recruit on both Rivals and Scout, Bradford has only played on the offensive side of the ball for the Trojans. As a backup his freshman year, he started a few games at fullback. It was back to backup tailback duties his sophomore year and an injury early in 2008 gave him a medical redshirt. Now a redshirt junior with two years left, Bradford will again provide depth at running back.

#16 Taylor Mays, S - Southern Cal (16,21)
An injury to Josh Pinkard in the 2006 opener gave Mays the opportunity to start in only his second game on campus. He hasn't looked back on his way to 3rd Team AP-All American status in 2007 and Consensus !st Team All-American status in 2008. He turned down a near certain Top 5 pick to return to college ball for one final year, where he will be one of the very best players in the nation.

#17 Micah Johnson, LB - Kentucky (36,9)
Splitting time at middle linebacker his first few seasons, the big 258 pound Johnson took over the starting middle linebacker job in 2008 and had an excellent year, becoming Kentucky's 2nd leading tackler and earning honorable mention All-SEC honors. He briefly considered leaving for the NFL Draft but returned for his senior year, where he will be one of the better, and bigger, linebackers in the SEC.

#18 Stephen Schilling, OT - Michigan (26,19)
Schilling was brought in to be the longterm solution at offensive tackle but got off to a rough start when injury and mono sidelined him for his freshman year. He started nearly every game the next two seasons at right tackle but was inconsistent. He has moved inside to guard for 2009 where he might be more comfortable and effective over the next two seasons.

#19 Eddie Jones, DE - Texas (25,20)
After redshirting his first year, Jones wasn't able to crack the starting lineup his next two seasons in Austin. Shoulder surgery cost him the chance to earn a starting DE spot in spring ball this year, so he will have to win the job in the fall. He still has a few years lef left to make an impact, but if he can't stay healthy he will get passed by younger players.

#20 Brandon Spikes, LB - Florida (13,33)
Contributing right away as a freshman, Spikes entered the starting lineup for good and the honors and awards started flowing in. A 1st Team All-SEC honor his sophomore year was followed by Consensus 1st Team All-American honors last season. Bypassing a chance to enter the NFL Draft early, Spikes returns as one of the best defensive players in college football for the 2009 season.

#21 C.J. Gable, RB - Southern Cal (23,36)
Like teammate Bradford, Gable wasn't listed as a running back recruit by either Rivals (athlete) or Scout (safety). But that's where he has played at SC, becoming the first true freshman to start at running back for the Trojans. An injury in 2007 led to a medical redshirt, but he returned in 2008 to start 11 of 13 games, winding up as the team's 3rd leading rusher. He will be splitting carries once again as well as returning kickoffs.

#22 Michael Goodson, RB - Texas A&M (32,18)
Leading the Aggies in rushing as a freshman, Goodson was named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year. However, his yardage totals dropped each season the next two years due to injuries and conflict with the coaching staff. Goodson decided to skip his senior year and wound up a 4th round pick of the Carolina Panthers. Goodson is probably one of the harder guys to classify. He's not an obvious pick for blue, but he doesn't really qualify for a red or yellow either as he's already in the NFL.

#23 Tim Tebow, QB - Florida (22,29)
It was hard to dig up any information on Tim Tebow, but apparently he has had a pretty solid career so far. You'd think he would be mentioned in more articles. Anyway, with two national championships and one Heisman Trophy in his first three years, Tebow's resume already can match up with just about any player in college football history and he still has one year left.

#24 Ricky Sapp, DE - Clemson (21,31)
The speedy defensive end was quick to contribute to the Clemson pass rush, finishing second on the team in sacks as a freshman. He was a starter all 2007 and 2008 until tearing his ACL with three games to go in the '08 season. He's currently listed as a co-starter as he recovers from his knee injury.

#25 James Aldridge, RB - Notre Dame (27,34)
Aldridge was slowed by a knee injury his freshman year and only received a handful of carries behind Darius Walker. His sophomore season he only started five of the 11 games, but was ND's leading rusher in a rotation with Armando Allen and Robert Hughes. In 2008 he fell behind Allen and Hughes on the depth chart a bit while still getting nearly 100 carries and 357 yards. Heading into his final season, he has moved to become the starting fullback, although it is possible he will still see carries as a tailback on occasion. In all honestly, he's probably close to getting a red label, but I put him at yellow since he's technically a starter and could wind up being ND's short yardage back.

#26 LeSean McCoy, RB - Pitt (43,22)
"Shady" McCoy's college debut was delayed a year after he wound up going to prep school for a year rather than join the rest of his recruiting class as freshmen in college. When he did show up in 2007, he had an instant impact, leading all freshmen in the nation in rushing, breaking Tony Dorsett's rookie rushing records along the way. In 2008 McCoy finished 10th in the nation in total rushing and then declared for the NFL Draft. The Eagles selected McCoy in the 2nd round with the 53rd overall pick in the draft.

#27 Carl Johnson, OG - Florida (28,39)
A massive guard at 6'6" 348 pounds, Carl Johnson redshirted his first year and was a backup the next season seeing some time at center, guard, and tackle. He did wind up starting 8 games last year at left guard and, despite an off-season arrest for violating a restraining order, is in line to be a starting guard for the Gators with two years of eligibility left.

#28 Robert Rose, DE - Ohio State (17,52)
Rose entered the Buckeye starting lineup his sophomore year, but was sidelined by a shoulder injury. The effects of the injury carried over to his junior year where he played as a backup. After overcoming some last minute academic issues, Rose joined the team this fall and is currently listed as the backup at both defensive end spots.

#29 Antwine Perez, S - Southern Cal to Maryland (29,43)
An early enrollee, Perez contributed early on special teams and as a backup safety for the Trojans, but decided to change schools following the season. After sitting out a year at Maryland, he played from a backup position in 2008, starting only two games. With two years of eligibility left, Perez is still listed as a backup.

#30 DeMarco Murray, RB - Oklahoma (35,37)
Murray sat out his freshman year in 2006 as Oklahoma relied on Adrian Peterson. In his first game in 2007 he had five touchdowns. Despite an injury later in the season he was still named All-Big 12 honorable mention. A spectacular year in 2008 saw him set the Oklahoma single season all-purpose yardage record with 2,127 yards as a rusher, receiver, and returner. He has two years left, but the NFL will definitely be interested following the 2009 season.

#31 Jarred Fayson, WR - Florida to Illinois (47,27)
The fast receiver won a national championship as a freshman but decided to find more playing time elsewhere after not being a feature player in 2007. Now done with his mandatory transfer year off, Fayson will look to be part of an athletic receiving duo with Arrellious Benn.

#32 Joshua Tatum, S - Southern Cal to City College of San Francisco to Missouri (40,41)
Like Perez, Tatum redshirted his freshman year while getting over a knee injury. Like Perez, he decided to leave the Trojans and find playing time elsewhere. He played for two years at City College of San Francisco where he was named a JUCO All-American in 2008. Now at Missouri, Perez may take a medical redshirt year after going through back surgery in the off-season. He would still then have two seasons of eligibility left.

#33 Connor Smith, OG - Ohio State (55,30)
So far Smith has been a career backup for the Buckeyes. He will see some time as the starter in fall camp while the starter Justin Boren nurses a knee injury, but will likely slide back to a reserve role once the season hits.

#34 Jared Odrick, DT - Penn State (31,55)
Seeing playing time right away, Odrick had a positive impact right away on the Penn State defensive line. His sophomore year he was a starter at tackle but was lost for the last few games due to injury. Healthy in 2008, he was named 1st Team All-Big Ten and is in line for even more honors for his fourth and final season.

#35 Deantwan Whitehead, DE - Louisville (52,38)
A promising career was cut short by a spinal condition that forced a premautre retirement from football for Whitehead. The Sporting News Big East Defensive Freshman of the Year, Whitehead was injured during his sophomore year and testing revealed the narrowing of his spinal column

#36 Antonio Logan-El, OT - Penn State to Towson University (58,35)
Logan-El's biggest splash came with an over the top ESPNZone press conference to pick Penn State over Maryland. During his redshirt freshman year, he decided to leave the Nittany Lions without ever having played a down for them. He eventually transferred to Towson University to play. He eventually quit the team there as well and is now presumably out of football.

#37 Jonas Mouton, S - Michigan (45,48)
During his redshirt freshman year, Mouton switched from safety to linebacker. He then played as a backup LB his sophomore year, but only picked up 5 tackles in 9 games. He did crack the starting lineup as the weakside 'backer last year, starting 11. With two more seasons to go, he has plenty of time to live up to his lofty recruiting rank.

#38 Akeem Hebron, LB - Georgia (65,32)
Hebron's career has been one setback after another. He sat on the sidelines his freshman year and was suspended from school for his sophomore year. After playing at Georgia Military College instead, he returned to Georgia as a backup linebacker for 2008 and totalled one tackle. Injuries forced him to miss spring practice and while he's trying to work his way back from his ankle injury is buried on the depth chart.

#39 Deon Beasley, CB - Texas (77,23)
The lone senior in the Longhorns' defensive backfield, Beasley is likely to end his career as a back-up. Although he started nine games last year, it appears that two more talented, younger defensive backs (Aaron Williams, Chykie Brown) have relegated him to the bench. During 2007, Beasley broke up nine passes and intercepted three while starting one game; last year he broke up just six passes with zero interceptions.

#40 Charles Scott, RB - LSU (50,51)
After limited carries his first two season, the 6'0" 230 lb halfback won the starting job in '08, and he wasted no time in demonstrating that he belonged among the elite backs in the SEC. He led the conference in rushing touchdowns (18), and his 1,174 yards were the fifth most in school history.

#41 Marcus Ball, LB/S - Florida State to Pearl River Community College (37,67)
The younger brother of former Georgia Tech signalcaller Reggie Ball is no longer a Seminole. His career started off fairly well, as he played in three of the first four games his freshman year. During his sophomore year, he saw limited playing time, but he also became embroiled in the academic scandal that rocked Tallahassee. Rather than return after his suspension, Ball decided to enroll at a junior college and find another school to finish out his collegiate career. After earning first team All-American at Pearl River Community College, it appears that Ball will end up at Memphis.

#42 Butch Lewis, OT - Southern Cal (44,60)
Many teams, including the Irish, recruited Lewis as a defensive lineman, but the Trojans quickly moved him to offensive tackle, and he redshirted his freshman year. After playing a back-up role in 2007, he assumed the starting right tackle spot the following year. He started the first five games, got hurt, played as a back-up for another five games, and then started the final two contests. Unfortunately for Lewis, it seems as though he will be backing up tackles Charles Brown and Tyron Smith this year.

#43 A.J. Wallace, CB - Penn State (19,37)
The athletic cornerback and returner for the Nittany Lions is entering his senior season in Joe Paterno's doghouse for cutting classes. As a freshman, he played offense, defense, and special teams. The following year he set a school record for kick return yardage. This comes on the heels of Wallace's least productive season in Happy Valley. Last year, however he lost his starting cornerback spot and played more nickel,. On thin ice heading into his last year, Wallace is going to have to avoid trouble and beat out Knowledge Timmons and D'Anton Lynn for a starting job.

#44 Justin Boren, OG - Michigan to Ohio State (64,42)
Boren played as a freshman, and became a starter in his second season, earning Honorable All Big Ten honors. He didn't mix well with new coach Rich Rodriguez and the son of a Michigan alum transferred to Ohio State, where is brother was also playing. He sat out 2008 and is slated to start for the Buckeyes at offensive guard in 2009 with two years left.

#45 J'Marcus Webb, OL - Texas to Navarro Junior College to West Texas A&M (63,44)
The big tackle showed up at Texas and was good enough to earn immediate playing time as a freshman. Unfortunately, he didn't carry that effort over to his academics, and he flunked out. After a stint at Navarro Junior College, Webb picked the University of Arizona in 2008-- but then he failed to qualify for the Wildcats. He then enrolled at Divison II West Texas A&M, where he is a preseason All American pick at tackle.

#46 Maurice Evans, DE - Penn State (46,32)
The former Irish recruit earned some playing time as a freshman before becoming a 1st team All Big Ten selection as a sophomore. Evans was dinged for marijuana possession, suspended for the first three games, and then lost his starting spot to future first round draft pick Aaron Maybin. Things got weirder when Evans announced for the NFL draft despite his horrible junior year and the opportunity to reclaim his starting job. He went undrafted, and now he's trying to hang onto the New York Giants' squad.

#47 Jermaine Gresham, TE - Oklahoma (34,77)
Pass-catching tight ends are in vogue these days, and Gresham certainly fits the bill. The second team AP All-American from Oklahoma caught 66 balls last year for 950 yards and an astonishing 14 touchdowns. That followed a sophomore campaign where he grabbed 37 passes for 518 yards and another 11 scores. This touchdown machine is likely a frontrunner for the Mackey Award, given to the nation's best tight end.

#48 Derrick Hill, DT - Cal (48,63)
The big nose tackle's playing time has increased each year, and last year that culminated in earning nine starts. As the nose in Cal's 3-4 defense, he's not going to rack up a ton of tackles, but he's an integral piece of the defense as his two gap play allows the linebackers more freedom to make tackles. For his career, he has posted 58 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss in 27 games.

#49 David Ausberry, WR - Southern Cal (66,46)
The 6'4, 235 lb receiver redshirted his freshman year and showed much promise in 2007 as he caught 26 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns. That year he made five starts and appeared in all 13 games. However, his playing time decreased dramatically in 2008 due to the play of Patrick Turner, the transfer of Damien Williams and the emergence of Ronald Johnson. Last year he caught just six passes for 85 yards and a score, and he didn't start any games. That isn't likely to change in 2009, even though Turner has graduated. Still, it would seem that Ausberry will be the third receiver on the field when the Trojans spread it out.

#50 Dorin Dickerson, TE - Pitt (85,36)
It was a 3-way tie for #50 between Dickerson, Auburn WR Tim Hawthorne, and ND transfer Konrad Reuland. His #36 ranking from Scout gave him the edge. Recruited as a wide receiver, Dickerson was switched to linebacker for his sophomore year. He flipped back to offense, now as a tight end, for his junior year where he played in 12 games as a reserve. Heading into his senior year he's still a backup behind Nate Byham.

Conclusions. Finally some Irish players crack the list after a two year absence. However, Sam Young is a green bordering on yellow and James Aldridge is a yellow bordering on red. That brings up the point that is hard to address succinctly in these reviews; the impact of a coaching staff on a player's use, development, and success is incredibly important but hard to quantify.

Some other comments on this year's list...

Yellow 21
Red 12
Kudos to the recruiting services. Either it was a bumper crop year or the services are getting better at what they do as their methods mature. Out of the Top 20, there was only one "bust" and to be fair to Mitch Mustain, it has a lot to do with the fact he's at Southern Cal. At most other schools he would be the starter and have a chance to show what he can do. Moreover, for the first time in five years, more than half of the Top 50 recruits turned out like, well, Top 50 recruits.

And as always, a sizable portion of the so-called "busts" were brought down by issues other than their ability to play football. Even with the most accurate scouting out there, it's still going to be nearly impossible to predict which guys won't bother to go to class or will suffer a bad injury.

Run to the running backs, pass on the receivers. For the second straight year,the Top 50 receivers were more miss than hit. Last year there were 6 receivers on the list and only two had turned out like planned. This year, 4 receivers made the Top 50 list and only one, Harvin, was a bonafide star.

Meanwhile, there are 9 running backs on this year's list and all but ND's Aldridge (and possibly A&M's Goodson) have turned out very strong careers. I have always been a bit skeptical when recruitniks make claims like "this is a great year for receivers" or "not a strong collection of linebackers this season", but you can kind of see it in these reviews. After all, it's not like the receivers will always be so hit or miss. For example, it's already clear the 2008 class won't be full of busts at receivers with Top 50 types like Julio Jones, A.J. Green, DeAndre Brown, DeVier Posey, Michael Floyd, and Jonathan Baldwin already having big impacts.

The Trojans cleaned up. Southern Cal's recruiting perhaps hit its zenith in 2006, landing 9 of the Top 50 players on this list and later picking up an additional one via transfer. That type of Top 50 recruiting will be hard for anyone to match. However, the results once the players got to campus were less than ideal. Heading into their senior year, of the original nine players, more transferred out of the program (3) than are starters (2). Some of these can be attributed to the Trojan yearly success at recruiting even more talent, but some of it is due to the fact this class featured many recruits at the same position including three running backs and three safeties. With only so many starting spots, it's easy to see why some didn't pan out when they were in direct competition with their classmates.

What else did you notice? Admittedly a few players were hard to classify with a blue, yellow, red tag. Any disagreements?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ticket Time | by Jay

Once again longtime reader Trace sends us the ticket montage. I think they did a good job with it this year: nothing fancy, just some iconic images from gameday. Click on the image for a larger version.

7 days to kickoff. | by Jay

Are you ready?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

2009 Opponent Position Preview: Tight End | by Kevin

Tight ends are entry number 5 in pre-season positional preview (following quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and offensive lines).

Pat raised a good point in an email -- the quality of the opponents' tight ends will be particularly important this year, given the uncertainty and youth among Notre Dame's 2009 linebacking corp. Linebackers often find themselves matched up against the tight end: in pass coverage, against the run, and in pass rushes off the ends. For this reason, news that Michigan may use Steve Brown as a strong-side linebacker gave me visions of poor Kyle Rudolph taking oxygen after yet another 40-yard dash.

As always, number in parenthesis after a player's name, if there is one, corresponds to that player's ranking in Phil Steele's draft-eligible position preview. Steele ranked 44 tight ends.


Virgil Green.
Junior. Returning Starter.
2008 Stats: 10 receptions, 164 yards, 1 TD.

A returning starter and a senior backup sounds like a pretty deep tight end group for the Wolfpack. The 6'5" 240 pound Green played in all thirteen games as a redshirt freshman in 2007, then became the starter last season, where he finished fifth on the team in yards and receptions. The Sporting News named him the First Team WAC tight end in its 2009 preview. Depth: Senior Kevin Bohr, who missed part of last season with an injury, should also see some playing time.


Kevin Koger.
Sophomore. Returning Starter.
2008 Stats: 6 receptions, 93 yards, 1 TD.

In the Michigan preview, I undersold Michigan's 2008 statistics, noting only Carson Butler's 17 yards receiving. While true, I gave short shrift to Mr. Koger's 93 yards. This is a fact of life for Michigan fans: tight ends are not prominent receiving threats in Rodriguez's offense. Tight ends rarely figured in the West Virginia attack. If anything, I think Rodriguez might prefer to find an Owen Schmitt-type player, a fullback who can catch out of the backfield. Schmitt was a heck of a player for them. I did not realize until today that WVU backup QB Adam Bednarik is Chuck Bednarik's great-nephew. OK, that's enough on the Michigan tight ends.


Charlie Gantt. (#11) Junior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 19 receptions, 302 yards, 4 TDs.

Another preview, another Michigan State player I like. Tight ends can be nice safety valves for inexperienced quarterbacks; they often draw linebacker coverage or find soft spots in intermediate areas. For that reason, and because Gantt is good, expect Keith Nichol a/or Kirk Cousins to rely heavily on the big (6'5", 250 pound) target from Farmington Hills. Last season, Gantt, Phil Steele's 2009 pre-season All-Big Ten tight end, did not record any catches in the Notre Dame game, but bounced back the following week with 92 yards and a touchdown against Indiana. In that game, he had an 82-yard scoring strike. In addition to his receiving abilities, Gantt is an able blocker -- he was a key part of Javon Ringer's 200-yard game against the Irish. He's a tough player who helps the Spartan offense in multiple ways. Behind or opposite Gantt are sophomore Garrett Celek, who will likely again join Gantt in two-TE formations, and sophomore Clemson transfer Brian Linthicum. Highly touted freshman Dion Sims might also join the mix, as fall practice reports out of East Lansing indicate that Sims is impressing his new coaches and teammates. MSU is well-stocked at this position.


Kyle Adams.
Junior. Returning from Injury.
2008 stats: N/A

Obviously, that's not Kyle Adams. Adams disgusts Purdue fans with his hairless face. Rather, this is a picture of Irv Smith, the great Notre Dame TE of the Holtz Era. Irv was one of my favorites as a kid, and I felt he deserved mention at some point in this entry. Returning to the topic of Purdue, Kyle Adams should be a productive player this season. His 2008 campaign ended early, with a knee injury against Colorado on September 6th. He played as both a Freshman and Sophomore for the Boilers, though, hauling in 106 yards and a couple touchdowns in 2007. Purdue's high hopes for Adams in 2008 carry over to 2009, and given the relative inexperience of their receivers, he could be an important cog in their offense. Behind Adams are junior Jeff Lindsay and sophomore Colton McKey. Lindsay was a well-regarded recruit out of high school, as was freshman Gabe Holmes.


Kavario Middleton. Sophomore. New Starter.
2008 stats: 12 receptions, 82 yards.
Chris Izbicki. Sophomore.
2008 stats: Suspended.

Washington fans might see it as a good sign that one of their tight ends is getting in trouble. I don't mean to compare Chris Izbicki to the reprehensible Jerramy Stevens, but at least he got himself booted from the team last year. Somebody had to try something. Middleton and Izbicki were both big recruiting "gets," athletic receiving threats who should flourish if Steve Sarkisian is able to implement much of his offense this year or next. Though Kavario Middleton had only 12 catches and no touchdowns last season, he was a top-five tight end coming out of high school. He's a big target, at 6'5" and more than 250 pounds. With a healthy quarterback and a coach who presumably wants to provide coaching services in exchange for his paychecks, Kavario could make a big leap this season.


Anthony McCoy. (#15) Senior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 22 receptions, 256 yards, 1 TDs
Blake Ayles. Sophomore.
2008 stats: 6 receptions, 41 yards, 1 TD.

USC fields two highly recruited tight ends, but neither provide the Fred Davis track record that helped fuel the Trojan offense in 2006 and 2007. McCoy was the fifth-leading receiver on last year's team, and Ayles saw action in nine games. Ayles had a scare this summer, when he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. He recently had a procedure to address this problem, and reports out of USC camp indicate he is doing better and should be able to play in 2009. Sophomore Rhett Ellison, who played in a couple games as a Redshirt Freshman last year and caught four passes for 58 yards, will likely battle Ayles for the other TE spot. SC did not recruit any tight ends in the 2009 recruiting class.


Lars Anderson. Sophomore. New Starter.
2008 stats: 9 receptions, 84 yards, 1 TD.

This is fitting: when I went to do my research on Anderson, I found that the Red Sox also have a Lars Anderson. Lars, who was not sired by either Arn or Oly, played in six games last season, and tallied 53 of his 84 receiving yards in an Eagle win at NC State. He is not as tall as the ideal tight end (he's 6'3"), but I presume him to be lumberjack strong. A much taller Junior, Jordan McMichael (6'6, 260 pounds) will play with or behind Anderson. McMichael missed substantially all of last season after requiring surgery to repair a hip injury. BC must replace Ryan Purvis, who was a productive three-year player. Third-year Sophomores Chris Pantale and Michael Stone (BC always seems to use redshirting as effectively as any opponent) may also figure into the mix.


Tony Thompson.
Senior. New Starter.
2008 stats: 4 receptions, 30 yards.

Now does not seem to be a good time to be a WSU fan. Tight end is just the latest example. In addition to losing one of their all-time best receivers, the Cougars also lost their top two tight ends from 2008, Devin Frischknecht and Ben Woodard. Both had over 200 yards receiving last year. New starter Thompson should be joined by Redshirt Freshmen Skylar Stormo (look, interesting names are part of college sports, but Washington State seems to be missing the point) and Andrei Lintz, as well as Senior Zach Talman. On the bright side for the Cougar faithful, San Antonio is a beautiful city, and it must have some connection to Washington State that I just haven't yet figured out.


Navy does not use a tight end, or at least not one in the sense we use the term. I'm going to move on, rather than try to fit their personnel into a square peg. At some point, we have to do justice to our favorite rival. Is Navy in Michael's college football database? Is Michael in a National Security Agency database? Both are questions worth asking. (Ed note: for a discourse on the Navy offense, take a look at this old post from -- gulp -- 2007).


Nate Byham (#10). Senior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 20 receptions, 260 yards, 1 TD.

Again, Pitt enters one of these previews looking pretty strong. Joining Jonathan Baldwin and friends in the Panther passing attack is Nate Byham, last season's First Team All-Big East tight end. Byham was recently added to this season's Mackey Award watch list. Byham isn't alone: Senior Dorin Dickerson had two starts, 13 catches, 174 receiving yards, and 2 touchdowns in 2008. Dickerson is listed as a tight end, but he's smaller than Baldwin and has receiver-level speed. He could be quite a weapon for the Panthers. John Pelusi, who saw considerable playing time last season and had 83 receiving yards, will also figure into the attack.


John Delahunt. RS Freshman, New Starter.
2008 stats: N/A

John Delahunt and/or fellow redshirt freshman Ryan Griffin will likely start for the Huskies this season. As their class year indicates, they've never played college football before. Delahunt is Canadian. Their third guy, Corey Manning is also a redshirt freshman. An idea: if UConn beats Notre Dame this year, hire Randy Edsall before NBC goes off the air that afternoon.


Jim Dray. Senior. New Starter.
2008 stats: 2 receptions, 12 yards, 2 TDs.

Finally, the Cardinal. Jim Dray made the most of his 12 yards last year, scoring more touchdowns than USC's Anthony McCoy. Sophomore Coby Fleener, 6'7" blue-chip recruit Levine Toilolo, and some Nordic-looking transfer will all fight for time -- and likely receive it. While the Cardinal do not have a clear-cut #1 guy or much playing experience, this could be a pretty talented group. They might surprise a few teams this season.

2009 Opponent Tight End Analysis and Rankings

What really matters when looking at this position is the matchup of their tight ends vs. our safeties and linebackers. How will our various Smiths, McCarthys, Flemings, and Te'os handle Anthony McCoy, Kavario Middleton, and Kyle Adams? On one hand, none of these tight ends is the mold-breaker that Rudolph is. In fact, none of the listed starters matched freshman Rudolph's receiving output last season. Only two TE starters caught more than one touchdown all season long. On the other hand, McCoy and Ayles, Middleton, Adams, Gantt, and others are still threats in the passing game, and ND's linebackers' competency may tilt more towards the pass rush than pass coverage.

Darius Fleming appears to have secured the starting spot at strongside linebacker, which should lead to encounters with tight ends. I like Darius's odds against the tight ends-as-blockers, both in the running and passing game. I do think ND's linebackers will need considerable safety help in covering the tight ends and all other intermediate routes. Fortunately, ND has some sure tacklers among its safeties, especially Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith.

Also, I think two-tight packages will be common against ND. I think we will see a lot of that from Stanford, Pitt, and MSU in particular. Most of the tight ends on this list are more towards the receiver side of tight end than blocker side, but there are still some very aggressive blockers who will only make ND's job of stopping the run more difficult.Here's a quick take on ranking the tight ends for 2009.

1. Michigan State. Gantt can catch and block; they can play any of three or four players.
2. Pitt. Again: if McCoy had stayed, this would be a very, very dangerous team.
3. USC. Three solid players to choose from. I'm sure they'll survive.
4. Purdue. Does anyone know if Ross-Ade now has permanent bleachers? I heard they did.
5. Washington. This is one position Willingham did not completely fail to recruit.
6. Nevada. They'll need Green, as they're replacing 2 of their top 3 wide receivers from 2008.
7. Stanford. Not very old, but any one or two of this group could emerge in 2009.
8. Michigan. Koger looks like a pretty solid player, and he may take a big step this year.
9. Boston College. Not as experienced as the Eagles always seem to be.
10. (tie) UConn. Freshman starters may not provide the relief their passing game needs.
10. (tie) Washington State. I considered ranking Navy ahead of these last two teams.
12. Navy. No tight end on the roster.

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.