WILL THE offensive linemen be able to eat their way to respectability? A diet designed to add bulk was one of the elements of a super-sized off-season conditioning program mandated by coach Charlie Weis, who last year had only one starter and a total of four linemen weighing at least 300 pounds. The Fighting Irish ended spring drills with all five starters, including four returnees, weighing 300 or more (10 total).
The measurable gains stem in part from the group's affinity for Bruno's, an Italian restaurant in South Bend. "We had a nutritionist and a weight program to help us add bulk," says right tackle Sam Young, a junior who checks in at 330 after finishing last season at 287. "But I'd be lying if I left out that we cleaned out that buffet spread every week." (For the record, the players were checked weekly to make sure their body fat was in line.)
The coaches expect that added size and experience will turn around a line that was arguably the worst in the country. Only four teams in Division I-A rushed for fewer yards than Notre Dame (75.3 per game) in 2007, and no other unit allowed more sacks (58). Absorbing a good amount of the punishment was quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who has bulked up as well, adding 18 pounds to his 6'3" frame since the end of last season.
"I don't talk to my guys about last year," says offensive line coach John Latina. "It's a completely different situation. We have five guys who've played together. They're bigger, stronger, more physical. This spring we looked better than we ever did last year in goal line and short-yardage plays."
The spring workouts were also marked by a feistiness that was noticeably absent during last year's 3--9 debacle. Fights broke out at one practice, and the spring game featured a highly charged scuffle. "When you're worrying about screwing up, it's tough to play as a group and be nasty," junior guard Eric Olsen says of last season. "There's a whole different tone here this year."