April 13, 2004
EVANSTON, Ill - With a combined weight of over 1,500 pounds, and an entire year of experience playing beside one another, NU's offensive line is ready to power itself into a complete package this spring and into next fall. One of the key trench-anchors for the 'Cats has been Matt Ulrich (Streamwood, Ill./Streamwood), NU's most experienced lineman with 26 consecutive starts. NUsports.com sat down with "Chesty" and offensive line coach James Patton before Tuesday's practice to discuss how the offensive line is ready to be one of the most powerful and tight-knit groups in the Big Ten.
Offensive Guard Matt Ulrich
NUsports.com: You've proven yourself to be a force in the weight room, with an incline press of 425 pounds and a squat max of over 600. How important is it for an offensive lineman to possess great power at the point of attack?
Matt Ulrich: At a basic level, our primary job is to move people out of the way. If you don't have the strength to move somebody, you won't be able to do your job, making other people's jobs, such as the running back's, even more difficult.
NU: What are some of your individual and unit goals as you progress through the spring, and even heading into next season?
MU: My goals are similar to that of our offensive line's. Along with the unit, I really need to work on my technique, especially pass protection, and concentrate less on my strength. If we work on things like that we should have a great year.
NU: With all five starters back for '04, how have you and your teammates on the offensive line molded yourselves into one cohesive unit?
MU: Being completely honest with each other is a huge part. We can tell each other the things we need to improve upon without someone taking it personally. Out on the field, we can actually feel how each other blocks; from a guard-tackle perspective, I know how (Zach) Strief blocks and Ike (Ndukwe) knows how Trai (Essex) blocks. We all work together to make ourselves one unit instead of five individuals.
Offensive Line Coach James Patton
NUsports.com: With five individuals already establishing themselves as guys who can start, who are you looking for to step up and add some depth to the offensive line?
James Patton: We have a bunch of guys who have a chance to step up and give some depth to this line. Joe Wohlscheid is back in the mix this year after missing some time last year. Joe Tripodi and Rick McDole are three-year players who know the system pretty well. Redshirt freshmen Dylan Thiry and Austin Matthews are guys that are having a good spring, but need to have a great summer to have a healthy contribution next fall.
NU: To aid in the passing game's resurgence, what sort of things are you working on to improve the offensive line's pass-protection skills?
JP: Fundamentally, we need to play big and strong. From a technique perspective, we need to develop a better striking ability, or "punch." When guys were blitzing last year, I didn't think we had as good of a punch as we should have. When guys are blitzing, we also need to do a better job of getting big so we can give the quarterback more time to throw the ball.
NU: With former NU offensive linemen Jeff Roehl and Austin King joining the professional ranks, how do you prepare your players to become NFL caliber?
JP: As with our level, a guy needs to be fundamentally sound. Some base things that I teach my guys to give them a chance is footwork, body balance, not being over-extended in their positioning and possessing a good strike at the point of attack. The next thing, and probably most important, is how hard you play. If you finish your blocks and have a tenacity and attitude, the NFL guys will start to notice.
Practice Eight Notes
Temperatures, which seemed cooler with a stiff breeze from the north, were in the low-40's Tuesday afternoon. It was, however, the sixth straight outdoor practice for the 'Cats, a rarity in recent spring seasons ... NU hosts its annual Spring Coaching Clinic Saturday in Trienens Hall, with registration beginning at 9 a.m. The clinic includes demonstrations, an NU practice/scrimmage, and guest speakers from area high schools. More than 100 coaches are expected to attend the clinic. For more information, call the NU football office at (847) 491-7274 ... Tuesday's session was marked by a strong offensive showing, including an impressive live 11-on-11 performance near the conclusion of practice. Noah Herron (Mattawan, Mich./Mattawan) capped off an impressive drive by busting his way into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown score ... The next spring practice is scheduled for Wednesday at 4 p.m. at NU's outdoor practice field. Wednesday's session will have a strong emphasis on special teams play.