Countdown to Kickoff: Jimmy Clausen and the offensive line

NewsCenter 16 has all the angles covered as you get ready to see the Irish take the field Saturday, September 6 against the San Diego State Aztecs.

We’ve put together a “Countdown to Kickoff” pre-season special to catch you up on the state of the Notre Dame football program heading into the 2008 season.

Today, we focus on Jimmy Clausen and what he’s thinking about heading into his second season. Plus, we see the very tasty way the offensive line bulked up this off-season.

Jimmy Clausen prepared for new season

Jimmy Clausen entered Notre Dame as the most highly-touted player in the nation, but Irish fans learned in 2007 that he is human, very human, and that trait served him very well in the midst of severe adversity.

It’s a face that Jimmy Clausen was not healthy for the entire 2007 campaign, and it’s a fact that he’s not the southern California surfer dude with the all-world pedigree; he’s a football player, and a pretty tough one at that.

Now Clausen is a year older, bigger, stronger and injury-free -- so let the comparisons begin.

NewsCenter 16’s Jeff Jeffers asked coach Charlie Weis about similarities he sees between Clausen and former Irish quarterback Brady Quinn.

“I think that he has a lot of the same moxie, you know, he has a lot of the same moxie. I think that the difference is, when I had Brady, he was already a Junior, where Jimmy is just a second-year player here. I think that would be a more fair question to ask when he’s a Junior and Brady’s a Junior to see how similar they actually are, and I think that it would very similar,” says Weis.

All it takes is one look to see that Clausen does not resemble the player thrown in the deep end of college football in 2007, not just physically, but emotionally as well.

“This year, I know what’s going on, you know, when things happen where I’m supposed to throw the ball and where I’m supposed to look, so that’s probably the biggest thing,” says Clausen.

“When you’re a quarterback on any team, you know, you gotta take some sort of control, you know, when it’s in the huddle, you know when you walk in the huddle, everyone’s quiet. That happens everywhere, not just Notre Dame. Last year I was a young guy and just trying to fit in, and trying to gain knowledge of the playbook and I really have the knowledge right now.”

The emphasis on running the football will no doubt aid Clausen, if the rushing game goes, the passing game will come all that much easier.

Clausen vs. Quinn: By the Numbers

So how do Jimmy Clausen’s first year stats stack up with his predecessor Brady Quinn’s first year?

We’ll take a look at Clausen’s freshman year versus Quinn’s rookie campaign by the numbers.

Clausen played in ten games last year, and started in nine of them. He completed just over 56-percent of his passes, for more than 1250 yards.

Clausen also threw seven TD passes and six interceptions.

Those numbers are not that different from Brady Quinn’s first year.

Quinn played in 12 games in 2003, but he also started in nine.

He threw for a lot more yards than Jimmy did last year, over 1,800, but his completion percentage was lower at around 47-percent.

Finally, Quinn threw nine TD passes in 2003, two more than Clausen. But Quinn also threw 15 interceptions, nine more than Clausen tallied last year.

Clausen’s Irish won three games in 2007, where Quinn’s team won five in 2003.

And of course, Quinn went on to win 19 games and play in two BCS games in his final two seasons.

Irish offense bulks up in off-season

If Clausen wants to have a stronger season, he’s going to have to stay upright.

The offensive line was dreadful last year, giving up the most sacks in the nation.

But this year, the men up front think things have changed.

NewsCenter 16’s Angelo Di Carlo went to see why there is more confidence in the Irish trenches.

There are three key things that make this year’s offensive line standout: they are more experienced, have more confidence, and are much, much bigger.

So how does an offensive line go from one 300-pounder to nine?

“We hit up Bruno’s a lot,” explains left guard Eric Olsen.

Right tackle Sam Young agrees, “Definitely have to thank Bruno’s for all the pizza and pasta.”

That’s right, every week Bruno’s probably loses a whole lot of cash when this large group comes strolling in.

“Hit up the buffet, that will definitely put some meat on your bones,” says Young.

The results are that now Chris Stewart is no longer by himself as a 300-pounder. In fact, Stewart is the only lineman to lose weight; he trimmed down by more than 30 pounds.

“We were just talking about how we are all so much closer in weight, when’s there like a 100-pound switch between me and Sam. I think it’s cool having a lot of guys put weight on and kind of know what it feels like,” says right guard Chris Stewart.

And the weight gain isn’t just for laughs. The Irish want to finally establish the run.

“It really helps us with that ‘pound the ball’ mentality. Everyone knows the easiest way to win football games is to run the ball. So that is definitely going to help everyone being bigger and strong, it’s definitely going to move that along more quickly,” says Olsen.

The Irish are not just bigger, they are more experienced.

Of the five first-teamers, only Sam Young had started a game before last year. Heading into 2008, Christ Stewart is the only player to not start at least half a season.

Left tackle Mike Turkovich says, “This year we are playing harder, we’re coming faster. We’re not playing tender. Out feet are moving fast, we’re trying to bury guys. We’re seeing stuff happen before it happens, so it’s really helping us.”

“The comfort factor. All the guys have been able to play together. All of the offensive linemen kind of know what each other are thinking. Everyone is on the same page and that definitely helps,” says Young.

And maybe the biggest key for the offensive line is starting off the season strong.

Right now, they have restored the confidence, but a rough first game that produces a number of sacks could diminish those positive attitudes pretty quickly.

Tight end position open after injury
One member of the extended offensive line the Irish will have to play without this year is tight end Mike Ragone.

Ragone tore his ACL during summer workouts and tried to play with a brace, but the injury kept getting worse. So he decided to have surgery.

Four players now hope to see time at tight end.

Freshman Kyle Rudolph tops the depth chart.

He’ll compete with fellow frosh Joseph Fauria; Will Yeatman, who’s back from a spring DUI suspension; and veteran fullback Luke Schmitt.

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