Irish D not fazed by Alabama's stout offensive line

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Irish D not fazed by Alabama's stout offensive line

Listen to the hyperbole, and one would think Alabamas offensive line is more like a steel-plated door that leads into a vault containing some of the world's most valuable diamonds. In other words, breaking through it would require some sort of Oceans 11 heist.

After Alabama lost to Texas A&M, plenty of many irate callers into the Paul Finebaum show lamented why the Tide decided to pass when facing a game-deciding series inside the Aggies red zone. You got the best offensive line in the history of college football, one caller shouted, so run the damn football!

Make no mistake, Alabamas offensive line is among the best in the country, if not sitting at the top of the heap. Barrett Jones is the nations best center and stands at 6-foot-5 and weighing over 300 lbs. -- so all Manti Teo could do was marvel at the senior when the pair were in Houston for the Lombardi Award ceremony last week.

Thats a big dude, Teo exclaimed.

But Notre Dames front seven wont look like a group of punters and kickers running into a group of five behemoths on Jan. 7. Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt are both products of SEC country, with the latter garnering plenty of support as an All-American defensive end alongside the often-unblockable Jadeveon Clowney. And Nix is a guy to whom some observers will throw a bit of credit for Teos outstanding season -- in fact, on Notre Dames third-and-inches stop of Stepfan Taylor on Oct. 13, Teo said Nix did most of the work, and all he had to do was give Taylor a little shove to keep him out of the end zone.

What I see is a big, physical Alabama offensive line, Nix said. Traditional, hard-nosed, hit-you-in-the-mouth, and thats what we expected, thats what we wanted because win or lose, itll better the team, itll be better me, itll better Tuitt, itll better everyone because a hard, physical game is what we need.

Kapron Lewis-Moore, Prince Shembo, Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, Danny Spond -- these arent guys who are going to be easily stonewalled, either. Shembo in particular has shown an explosive ability to get to the quarterback at times, and its worth noting Alabamas offensive line has allowed 23 sacks -- a mediocre national total.

Going back to that point about Teos success in relation to his defensive tackle, Nixs matchup with Jones could be key in South Florida. Its one for which he began preparing while watching the SEC Championship at the beginning of the month.

Hes just a smart center. He knows how to play the game, obviously, because he played three positions on the O-line, Nix noted. It takes a real good guy to know how to play all three positions, so hes a real smart guy, real athletic, very strong at the point of attack. I just have to be ready for him.

Saying the BCS Championship will be won in the trenches isnt exactly exclusive, expert analysis. If Notre Dame can win the battle on the line of scrimmage, both while on offense and defense, theyll be in excellent shape on Jan. 7.

To be the best, you have to beat the best -- and thats the defending champs, who hail from a conference thats won the last six BCS titles. That team also happens to have an offensive line thatll present a major challenge to Notre Dame, but one the team is looking forward to.

Theyre considered the best O-line in the country, Nix said, so thats who we want to play.

On the other side...

Alabama got some good news Friday morning, as the SEC announced defensive tackle Quinton Dial will not be suspended for this hit on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray during the SEC Championship Dec. 1. The conference admitted a flag shouldve been thrown on the play, but commissioner Mike Slive decided against suspending Dial for the BCS Championship.

Dial, a 6-foot-6, 304-pound senior, totaled 20 tackles with 4 12 for a loss, 1 12 sacks and four QB hurries in 11 games this season.

Wake-up Call: White Sox top Cubs; D-Rose has a new home; Jerrell Freeman a life-saver

Wake-up Call: White Sox top Cubs; D-Rose has a new home; Jerrell Freeman a life-saver

Here are some of Monday's top stories in Chicago sports after the first Crosstown Cup game was played:

Slumping White Sox get huge boost after Miguel Gonzalez 'defended his ground'

Kyle Hendricks is back, but Cubs will likely have to wait for their next shot at Yu Darvish

Bullard a prime example of how, why and where Bears can improve

Derrick Rose to sign with Cavaliers

Such a mighty wallop: How does Matt Davidson's mammoth home run stack up?

Willson Contreras may be ‘the f------ Energizer Bunny,’ but Cubs still need to get another catcher before trade deadline

'I'm a patient man': Lovie Smith takes the long view entering second season of Illini rebuilding effort

Fired-up Anthony Swarzak relishes pressure of first career save

Was Hector Rondon tipping pitches during late-game meltdowns with Cubs?

Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman saved a man's life at an airport

Bullard a prime example of how, why and where Bears can improve

Bullard a prime example of how, why and where Bears can improve

This Bears rebuild has taken longer than expected. Ideally, in year three of a GM/head coach tandem, they should be contending for the playoffs. 

That’s not to say the 2017 Bears can’t. It’s just unlikely. They don’t have enough players opponents have to gameplan for. They don’t have the depth to overcome key injuries. When franchises get on a winning roll, it’s when they have enough of those studs on both sides of the ball, and have the depth to avoid as many emergencies as possible. And that happens when second- and third-year players make a jump in their play.

Offensively, we saw an impressive jump by Cam Meredith, but another left leg injury still have us wondering exactly what Kevin White is, and how good he can be. Jeremy Langford’s growth was stunted by his ankle injury. Second-year center Hroniss Grasu missed the entire year. On the defensive side, we never got to see if Kyle Fuller could’ve proven his first-round status in his third year. Safety Adrian Amos started another full season, but is now in a battle to do the same a third straight year. We can see star qualities in Eddie Goldman, but how much of a difference-maker can he be by remaining on the field? We’ll learn the same about Leonard Floyd if he can do that this fall. And there are a handful of other second-year players we’ll be watching, from Deon Bush to Deiondre Hall to Cre’Von LeBlanc. There’s also 2016 third-round pick Jonathan Bullard, who learned what it took to become a 3-4 defensive end in the NFL.

“It was okay. I got about 17 snaps a game,” Bullard said of his rookie season during last month’s minicamp. “That’s not what I wanted coming in. But it is what is. I want to move on to the next year and hopefully be able to help this team in a big way.”

Rookie seasons for every player lay the groundwork. How high their ceiling goes starts to get established in year two, between the player’s effort, and getting coached-up correctly.

“They asked me to gain a few pounds. I was like 282 last year, and right now I’m at 296, so hopefully that helps me, said Bullard. “I’m just trying to make all this solid and not lose my burst that got me here. So I’m looking forward to it. I got a year under my belt now, I know what they expect. I’m gonna be ready.”

Part of Bullard taking things upon himself was hooking up with a former defensive end, from the same alma mater, who happens to be fourth in franchise history in sacks (albeit in a 4-3 scheme): CSN’s very own Bears analyst, Alex Brown.

“We saw each other at the Florida spring game and we kind of linked up and put in some work at his facility down the road,” Bullard explained. “We’ve met up quite a few times, just working on little things. He’s just trying to give me a better understanding of the game, and some of the veteran things he knows that I want to incorporate into my game.”

So what kind of a teacher is Alex?

“He’s alright. I make him him jump in there. I tell him he’s not that old.”

And while Pace didn’t make the big splash in free agency as he tries to match up salary with his grades for players, Bullard has to prove he’s now better than last year’s starter, Mitch Unrein, as well as a hungry fellow former Gator, Jaye Howard, who was brought in on a “prove it” one-year deal after being cut just before the draft by Kansas City.

“As far as him being a Gator, it’s exciting. But it’s a competition. He’s gonna come in and try to win the starting job, and I’m gonna do the same. It’s just gonna have to be a friendly competition when training camp comes, and may the best man win.”

Let this, and many other Bourbonnais battles, begin.