NCF Nation: Frank Verducci
Here's some of what's being written about Notre Dame as the Irish approach their game against Navy on Saturday:
- The Notre Dame offensive line has made great progress this year, Brian Hamilton writes in the Chicago Tribune.
"It was a concern when I got here, because I know they were like -- for lack of a better term -- abused," Irish offensive line coach Frank Verducci said. "It was like they'd been locked in the closet."
- With Dayne Crist injured, Charlie Weis is happy that Evan Sharpley came back, Brian Hanley says in the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Former starting offensive lineman Dan Wenger is back in the mix this week with the injury to Trevor Robinson, Al Lesar writes in the South Bend Tribune.
- The Irish defense thinks it's ready for the Navy triple-option, Tony Krausz writes in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
- Despite all the drama on the field, the 2009 team has been remarkably drama-free outside the lines, John Walters writes for AOL Fanhouse.
No team in America has played more exciting games than Notre Dame. Which is not the same as saying the Fighting Irish have had a great season.
Their last five games have all come down to the last minute, last second or last play of overtime. The offense has given the team a chance to win each week, while the defense has usually made sure the opponent has ample opportunity as well.
Notre Dame entered this year with high hopes and some even predicting a run at the BCS title game. That dream is shot, while a berth in a BCS bowl looks like a remote possibility with two losses already on the slate. Still, the Irish have shown vast improvement over the past two years, which was evident in last week's 34-27 loss to USC. They had several chances to tie that game in the final seconds after not even being competitive against the Trojans since 2005.
There's still a healthy debate to be had about just how good this team actually is. The second half should answer most questions.
Here's a quick review of the highlights of the first half.
Offensive MVP: Jimmy Clausen. The junior has blossomed into one of the best quarterbacks in the country, making clutch plays and pinpoint throws all season. And he's done it in recent weeks while playing through a painful turf toe injury. Clausen makes sure the Irish are never out of a game.
Defensive MVP: Kyle McCarthy. The safety has literally been the team's last line of defense and usually comes up with big plays when his team needs them most. His interception at the end of the Michigan State game is one of the most important plays of the season.
Surprise: The offensive line is starting basically the same guys who were so disappointing the past two years. Whether it's experience or new position coach Frank Verducci, they've finally come together to form a respectable unit. They've paved the way for a workable running game and have for the most part given Clausen time to do his thing. They got overpowered at times by USC, but many teams would against that defense.
Disappointment: The defense was supposed to get better with veteran coordinator Jon Tenuta taking over and installing more pressure. Instead, the Irish are allowing 419 yards per game, which is about 90 more per game than a year ago. After shutting out Nevada in the opener, the defense has given up an average of more than 30 points in the last five games. It's hard to win consistently like that.
Best game: How do you pick out just one in a season full of storybook thrillers? Let's go with the 37-30 win over Washington, which featured a pair of two-minute scoring drives, lots of momentum swings and an overtime.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- As a freshman offensive lineman, Eric Olsen remembers getting some advice from veteran teammate Dan Santucci.
Santucci, who's now with the Cincinnati Bengals, told Olsen to learn how to snap the ball, because you never know when that will come in handy.
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|Eric Olsen is slated to slide from left guard to center this season.|
Luckily, Olsen listened, and that advice is now paying off as a senior. After 19 consecutive starts at left guard, Olsen is being moved to center for the Irish.
It's a new world for Olsen, who'd never played the position before getting some work there this spring. But he's ready for the change.
"I'm very comfortable in the offense now going into my senior year," he said. "I have a great grip on everything. I think playing center will be a good position for me personally. I feel comfortable making the calls and all the assignments."
Head coach Charlie Weis said on Friday that he'd planned on shuffling the line since the end of last season, but an injury to guard Trevor Robinson in the spring kept him from making the change official until this summer. Olsen steps in for senior Dan Wenger, who had started 15 straight games at center. Chris Stewart goes from right to left guard, while Robinson will play right guard.
The changes are interesting because the Irish returned all five starters on the O-line from a year ago, and their top six linemen combined for 100 starts, tied with Virginia Tech for the most in the FBS. The continuity and chemistry of that group seemed to be one of the team's strengths.
"We had to sit down and weigh what was best for the structure of offense versus the continuity aspect," first-year offensive line coach Frank Verducci said. "And we felt like we can get the continuity during two-a-days. There's a certain amount of continuity already. These five guys have all played and have all played with each other. Some of them are at a new position, and there is a learning curve there. But in my opinion, it's not as steep as it would be with an inexperienced player."
Verducci sees the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Olsen as a natural center, given his athleticism, size and smarts. It's up to Olsen to learn all the nuances of the position in training camp.
"There are definitely technical aspects that are difficult," he said. "But I feel like I've picked it up pretty quickly, and I have to pick it up quickly. As far as the calls and stuff, I like that responsibility and I'm embracing that responsibility. I pretty much do all the mental parts, the thinking before a play, already anyway."
Olsen doesn't see the changes affecting the cohesion of the offensive line.
"The only real dramatic changes were from guard to center," he said. "But I'm still on the interior, and it's the same guys and same faces. So I don't think chemistry will really be affected. I mean, it hasn't so far."
The other chemistry concern is between Olsen and quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Olsen has been practicing snaps since he was a freshman, thanks to Santucci's advice. And all spring and summer, he and Clausen have worked on the exchanges to make sure they're second nature.
When asked if Clausen had given Olsen any tips, the new Irish center sounded like a guy who had been snapping the ball all his life.
"He needs a little bit softer hands under there," Olsen said, laughing.