The season is approaching faster than ever so we're going to combine tight ends and offensive lines into one jumbo-sized preview fitting for the biggest guys on offense.
(all stats are from the '04 season)
TE - Erik Gill. 25 receptions, 433 yards, 4 TDs. Returning starter.
Gill started out as primarily as a blocking tight end, but last year showed that he's very capable as a receiver as well. His clutch catch and run was more or less the key play in the Pitt victory over the Irish last year. A true veteran who has played in all 38 games of his Pitt career, he should be a frequent safety value for Palko this year as well as a extra big body for Wannstedt's power running game. Depth: At 6'4" 250 lbs, Steve Buches isn't as big as Gill (6'5", 270lbs) so he tends to be more of a receiver. And he's a rather effective one as last year he four touchdowns on only seven receptions. A year older and presumably stronger, he should be able to see more time and passes thrown his way. A third TE who might make some noise is quarterback turned TE, Darrell Strong, who has turned some heads with his impressive athletic ability.
LT - Charles Spencer - Returning starter.
LG - Dominic Williams
C - Joe Villani
RG - John Sinonitis - Returning starter.
RT - Mike McGlynn - Returning starter.
Spencer was an All-Big East performer at guard last year but now must try to replace 3-time All-Big East tackle Rob Petitti. At the other tackle spot, space eater McGlynn returns and will give Pitt a seasoned right side of the line with veteran Sinonitis. Villani is a former walk-on, but seemed to grab the starting spot at the end of spring practice. The line remains a work in progress, but has the size to keep Palko relatively safe. Depth: Chris Vangas should push Villani for playing time while big Jerald Robinson will see the field as Spencer's heir apparent.
TE - Tim Massaquoi. 18 receptions, 184 yards, 0 TDs. Returning starter.
Michigan has had a long line of exceptional tight ends and Massaquoi doesn't appear to be much different. The one knock on him is that he isn't the greatest blocking tight end. On the other hand though, he is probably the fastest tight end that Notre Dame will have to face next season. Depth: Backup Tyler Ecker had nearly identical stats as Massaquoi and while not a great blocker is a very serviceable compliment.
LT- Adam Stenavich - Returning starter.
LG - Adam Kraus
C - Rueben Riley - Returning starter.
RG - Matt Lentz - Returning starter.
RT - Jake Long - Returning starter.
If it's Michigan, you can count on a solid offensive line. This year however, despite returning talent, the players are not neccesarily locked into one position. Stenavich anchors the left tackle position but the high praise in the media for his abilities isn't mirrored by all Michigan fans. Internet chatter suggests he may move to left guard to make room for 6'7" 325 lb Mike Kolodziej. Kraus is a converted tight end that should stay at LG if Stenavich stays at LT. Riley is another versitale offensive lineman that can line up anywhere on the line. For now it appears center is where his skills will be most needed to help replace all-american David Baas. Lentz, like Stenavich is entering his third year as a starter and will be a team leader. Jake Long is the lineman that many expect to become a first round pick and he should have a dominant year. Depth: In addition to Kolodzief, Leo Heinge at 339 lbs will add beef to the line. One time ND recruit Jeremy Ciulla might see time along the line as well.
TE - Ryan Woods. 1 reception, 17 yards, 0 TDs.
Woods fills in by default for departing Eric Knott and will need to elevate his receiving skills to match his blocking skills. Especially since TE is a big target in a John L. Smith offense. Twice while at Louisville his TE's lead the NCAA in receptions. Depth: Kellen Davis is a highly recruited tight end who fits the mold of receiver first/blocker second and could be the starter by the time the Spartans run out the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium.
LT- Stefon Wheeler - Returning starter.
LG - Kyle Cook - Returning starter.
C - Chris Morris - Returning starter.
RG - Gordon Niebylski
RT - Mike Gyetvai
Morris is the Boss Hogg of this group of hog mollies and is a definite Rimington Award candidate. Look for all of the short yardage runs to go right behind Morris, Cook, and Wheeler on the veteran left side of the line. New starters and color commentary pronunciation nightmares Neibyski and Gyetvai(left) are both 300+lb wide bodies, but Neibyski missed spring practice with injury and Gyetvai is inexperienced. In MSU's favor though is QB Stanton's mobility which means a missed block here and there isn't always going to result in a sack. Depth: Manchild Roland Martin is the future of the MSU line and should see action as he develops more familiarity with his position.
TE - Robert Lewis. 5 receptions, 32 yards, 0 TDs.
With Joe Toledo transplanted to the left tackle position, Robert Lewis will be the new starter at TE for the Huskies. Lewis started out as a linebacker but should be a serviceable tight end for the Huskies. Depth: Dash Crutchley is another converted linebacker, but has a cooler, comic-book worthy name and is bigger than Lewis.
LT- Joe Toledo
LG - Clay Walker - Returning starter.
C - Brad Vannerman - Returning starter.
RG - Tusi Sa'au
RT - Robin Meadow - Returning starter.
TE - Charles Davis. 34 receptions, 416 yards, 3 TDs. Returning starter.
One of the better tight ends that the Irish will face, Davis is an excellent athlete who also plays on the Purdue basketball team. He's big enough to be a quality blocker but has great hands and can be dangerous in the Purdue spread offense. Depth: Dustin Keller has been bulking up since his move from wide receiver to tight end and like Davis is more receiver than blocker.
LT - Mike Otto - Returning starter.
LG - Uche Nwaneri - Returning starter.
C - Matt Turner - Returning starter.
RG - Jordan Grimes
RT - Sean Sester
Returning starters Otto, Nwaneri, and Turner will give Purdue experience on the left side of the line. Otto in particular is expected to be a dominant tackle given his outstanding freshman year in 2003. Grimes, one of the strongest guys on the team, isn't technically a returning starter but last year played in 10 games and did start one game, becoming the first true freshman to ever start for a Tiller coached team. Redshirted freshman Sean Sester emerged in the spring to fill the big void at right tackle. Depth: Robbie Powell should push Sester for playing time.
TE - Dominique Byrd. 37 receptions, 384 yards, 3 TDs. - Returning starter.
Byrd continues the trend of receiver-first, blocker-second tight ends and might be the best. Extremely agile for his size, Byrd is a tough matchup for anyone in the secondary. Especially considering his penchant for one handed catches and high leg kicks. Depth: Yet another bulked up wide receiver, Fred Davis still has some size to gain if he wants to be an effective blocker. He is still facing competition from Rick Vanderboom and Dale Thompson who all shared co-starter honors in the spring.
LT - Sam Baker - Returning starter.
LG - Drew Radovich
C - Ryan Kalil - Returning starter.
RG - Fred Matua - Returning starter.
RT - Winston Justice
A line that at times had trouble last year should develop into a dominant unit this season. The Trojan tackles will be two of the best in the nation as Sam Baker follows up to last year's impressive performance and big gun Winston Justice returns from a year suspension ready to knock some heads. Big, strong, and tough, Fred Matua is the most likely to end up on All-American lists while Kalil returns to run the show from the middle. Depth: The depth took a hit when projected starter Jeff Byers ruled out any PT in 2005 due to a hip injury. But don't weep for the Trojans as there are plenty of talented reserves. Taitusi Lutui actually was the starting right tackle last year (and could start there this year) but Justice already beat him out for the spot in the spring. Alatini Malu is another player who had a great spring and could provide quality depth.
TE - Daniel Coats. 13 receptions, 160 yards, 0 TDs. Returning starter.
A great mix of size and speed, Coats will probably be the #2 option in BYU's pass happy attack after superstar Todd Watkins. Coats can run block with some of the best tight ends, but has excellent hands and can be a big threat catching the ball. He will be a tough assignment for any linebacker or safety assigned to cover him. Depth: Joe Griffin isn't quite as good a blocker as Coats, but will see time as a pass-catching threat. Jonny Harline had a great spring and should be a productive pass target in the BYU offense.
LT - Eddie Keele
LG - Brian Sanders - Returning starter.
C - Lance Reynolds - Returning starter.
RG - Travis Bright
RT - Jake Kuresa - Returning starter.
Former linebacker Lance Reynolds returns for his second tour of duty as the BYU center and will be a force in the middle. To his left, Sanders has the reputation of not being the most athletic lineman on the team, but he's a big bulldozer of a player with plenty of size and strength. Kuresa (left) is the most veteran player on the line while Bright balances his enourmous potential with his complete lack of playing time. He'll be a good one, but will make mistakes along the way. Depth: The most promising lineman on the Cougars team all seem to be freshman who undoutably will be worked into the rotation. All-Everything recruit Matt Reynolds is away on a mission, but another true freshman, Terrance Brown could work his way into the starting lineup by the time the Cougars visit South Bend.
TE - grab bag.
Going into the season Tennessee has no clear cut starter, but a number of guys with different strengths vying for the position. Justin Reed is the bulldozer type of tight end checking in a 289 lbs. After attempts at receiver, defensive end, and punter, Vols fans hope Reed will help their ground attack by knocking linebackers off the line. As you can guess at 289 lbs, he's not much of a threat in the passing game. Chris Brown is 50 pounds lighter than Reed, so that should clue you in that he falls into the pass catching tight end realm. An excellent athlete, Reed should benefit from another year in the weight room and emerge as the tight end of choice when the Vols are thinking pass. Depth: Rounding out the TE rotation are brothers Brad and Jeff Cottam.
LT - Arron Sears - Returning starter. (left)
LG - Rob Smith - Returning starter.
C - David Ligon
RG - Cody Douglas - Returning starter.
RT - Albert Toeaina - Returning starter.
Perhaps the biggest OL that Notre Dame will face, the Vols bring 3 lineman that weigh in at over 330 lbs. The star of the line is Sears (left) who is supposed to step right into departing All-American Michael Munoz's big shoes. In a line of Big Bertha's, tackle Toeainia is the biggest at 355 lbs but will need to develop a mental game to match his physical one. Ligon steps into the middle after projected starter Richie Gandy went down with a season-ending knee injury. Depth: The Vol backups are pretty young with most of the 2nd teamers being sophomores. Still, the line had injury problems last year so look for some of the bench guys like Eric Young, Ramon Foster, and Steven Jones to get a chance to knock helmets in game situations in order to build depth should the injury bug strike again.
TE - not applicable.
Navy doesn't have a tight end on their roster. Their option attack uses an extra slot back that we covered in the running back preview.
LT - Matt Pritchett
LG - Zach Gallion
C - James Rossi - Returning starter.
RG - Antron Harper
RT - Joe Person
Quite frankly, Navy is going to have a very young, small, and inexperienced offensive line. For a team that lives and dies by the run, Navy is going to have to quickly develop their line if they want to have another successful season. Rossi is the lone returning starter and he only has six starts under his belt. When your starting right guard, in this case Harper, tips the scales at 5'11" 249 lbs, you know it could get ugly. They are all quick, which helps in running the option, and always play harder than any other team the Irish play, but the lack of size and talent will be hard for them to overcome against a team like Notre Dame. Depth: Cole Smith, another 250-something pounder, will back up Rossi at center and Dan Wendolowski will back up both guard spots.
TE - Joseph Kowalewski. 14 receptions, 181 yards, 0 TDs.
After life as a defensive end and linebacker, Kowalewski has finally landed at tight end. He is a solid blocker but must work in improving as a receiver. A good pass-catching TE is vital in the West Coast Offense that 'Cuse hopes to run this year. He did miss all of spring practice with a shoulder injury so fall practice will be his first work with the new coaching staff. Depth: Alex Shor played in all 12 games last season but was primarily used as a third tackle. If he can work on becoming a credible receiving threat, his playing time should increase.
LT - Kurt Falke
LG - Jason Greene - Returning starter. (right)
C - Steve Franklin - Returning starter.
RG - Ryan Durand
RT - Quinn Ojinnaka - Returning starter.
Durand is the only non-senior starting on a line that has experience, but no real dominant players. Franklin is entering his third year as starter at center after playing guard the first two. Falke was used as a blocking tight end in short-yardage situations last season, but now must be ready to hold down the important left tackle position. Depth: If Durand struggles, Franklin could move back to guard and make room for Justin Outten. Another big body who might see PT is 322 lb OG Carroll Madison.
TE - grab bag.
Replacing NFL draftee Alex Smith at tight end is probably one of the top chores on Walt Harris' To-Do List. So far the candidates seem to be either Patrick Danahy or Michael Horgan. Danahy is the very definition of red zone receiver with three of his four career receptions going for touchdowns. Horgan is an effective blocker that will need to develop into a downfield threat. Both tight ends will most likely see a lot of playing time in two-tight end sets, but how they perform in fall camp will determine just how many balls are thrown their way.
LT - Jeff Edwards - Returning starter.
LG - Josiah Vinson - Returning starter.
C - Brian Head - Returning starter. (left)
RG - Ismail Simpson - Returning starter.
RT - Jon Cochran - Returning starter.
Good news, bad news for the Cardinal. The good news is that all five starters return. This is the only team on ND's 2005 schedule that can make that claim. The bad news? These 5 are responsible for allowing 41 sacks last season. However, it should be noted that Head is the only senior of the group so they were very young last year. A year older and hopefully wiser (it is Stanford after all) the veteran line will be a big aid in the transition to the Walt Harris era. (We should probably also note that Buddy Ball did the Stanford offense no favors.) Vinson is developing into a great all-conference type lineman and will be a force on the line. Depth: The fun part for Stanford fans is that while their starting unit is experienced, their backups are extremely talented and already pushing the starters for playing time. Sophomore Ben Muth split first team duties with Jon Cochran during spring practice and is a future star according to internet gurus. (And if you can't believe internet gurus, who can you believe?) Also in the mix are heralded recruits Mikal Brewer and Alex Fletcher. Stanford will have a strong, tough, and deep offensive line this year.
2005 Opponent Tight End/Offensive Line Anaylsis and Ranking
This season Notre Dame will not face too many experienced tight ends with only five returning starters lining up against the Irish. But those five returning starters are all extremely capable receivers and not just pass-eligble lineman. Byrd, Davis, and Coats in particular will all be focal points of the opposing offenses as they try to exploit personnel mismatches. Here's a rough idea of where I think these tight end units rank.
1. USC - Byrd has proven to be a very effective weapon and has the size to be a quality blocker.
2. Purdue - Davis is a fast tight end with good hands who can run after the catch.
3. BYU - Coats is extremely well-rounded and will be tough to cover
4. Michigan - Massaquoi is very fast and can't be left alone.
5. Pittsburgh - Gill's ability to get yards after the catch killed the Irish last year.
6. Tennessee - They have a mix of talented players. Someone will step up and be effective.
7. MSU - If Kellen Davis picks up the offense, he could move up this list.
8. Washington - Inexperience will limit their production early.
9. Stanford - Most likely a tight-end by committee approach until someone steps up.
10. Syracuse - Blocking tight ends who will need to quickly develop into solid receivers.
11. Navy - Lack of any tight end on the roster hurts their ranking.
Much has been made of the lack of depth at DL for Notre Dame this season and for good reason. After a talented first four, the depth quickly turns into undersized and inexperienced underclassmen. Teams with talented, veteran offensive lines will likely try to pound it out on the ground and wear down the Irish front four. The first three schools on this list should be no surprise as they always turn out solid, if not great, offensive lines. Kudos to Michigan for finally breaking USC's stranglehold on the top ranking spot.
1. Michigan - Potential All-Americans all over the line and plenty of experience.
2. USC - Both USC and Michigan have O-lines that belong in the Top 10 nationally.
3. Tennessee - Even with losing their starting center, a very impressive group.
4. MSU - Excellent run blockers who should become solid at blocking for the pass as well.
5. Purdue - A veteran line that will be a tough task for the Irish D-line.
6. Stanford - Experience is there with a good crop of backups.
7. Pitt - A line with a lot of potential. They could be undervalued here.
8. BYU - A big line with a talented group of backups that could develop by the ND game.
9. Washington - A converted tight end joins a veteran line that didn't do much last season.
10. Syracuse - Another line moving a tight end to the left tackle spot.
11. Navy - Inexperienced and very small, the line will have to execute flawlessly to succeed.
That's it for the offense. Tune for the next installment when we turn our attention to the Defensive Line.