Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Spring Football - 2006 Preview

Ahh... The sweet smell of flowers blooming, the sound of birds chirping, and after a long, cold winter, finally the images of grown men beating each other bloody over an inflated pig bladder. Thank you, God, it's spring football time, and with the college b-ball season securely behind me (with my Hoosiers finally following ND's lead and replacing their mediocre coach), I can begin my one true obsession.

For those of you that haven't seen it already, please click here to get yourself in the right state of mind.

I'll wait.

OK, now that I've got you sufficiently fired up, I will begin my 2006 Spring Football preview, wherein I wax poetic about the Fightin' Irish and their opponents. For a Spring 2006 Roster with height, weight, and playing time, click here.

Today - the Offense.

Key:
Projected Starter
Last year's Starter
Returning Starter

Quarterbacks

Brady Quinn, Quarterback - Senior

Pre-season Heisman trophy favorite (college football's most prestigious award)
Finished fourth in 2005 Heisman voting
Has broken 30 all-time records as Quarterback at Notre Dame
2005 Maxwell Award finalist (given to nation's most outstanding player)
2005 Davey O'Brien Award finalist (given to nation's most outstanding quarterback)
2005 offensive team captain, named 2006 offensive team captain
4-year starter (2003 recruit, 4 stars)
2005 stats: Completed 292 of 450 pass attempts for 3,919 yards and 32 touchdowns with only 7 interceptions, rushed for 90 yards on 70 carries (including sacks) and 1 touchdown.

All the excitement about the upcoming season is due in large part to the return of the most prolific passer in Notre Dame history (you know, the school that produced the likes of Joe Theismann and Joe Montana). Brady Quinn is the preseason favorite to win the Heisman trophy, after putting up video-game like numbers last year. He has his favorite target from last year (Samardzija) back, and his favorite target from the two years prior to that (McKnight) back from injury as well. If he wins the Heisman, that probably means that the Irish will be back in Pheonix this January, this time playing for a National Championship.

Losses at Quarterback:
Marty Mooney (walk-on) [no substantial contributions during games]

Depth at Quarterback:
David Wolke (2005 recruit, 3 stars), Evan Sharpley (2004 recruit, 2 stars)

Recruits at Quarterback:
Zach Frazer, 4-star prospect from Mechanicsburg, PA
Demetrius Jones, 4-star prospect from Chicago, IL

Running Backs

Darius Walker, Running Back - Junior

Preseason Doak Walker Award contender (given to Nation's top tailback)
3rd-year starter as a junior (2004 recruit, 3 stars)
2005 stats: 253 rushes for 1,196 yards and 9 touchdowns, caught 43 passes for 351 yards and 2 touchdowns

Darius Walker, despite being expected to be named a preseason All-American, may be one of the most under-rated running backs in the nation. After setting the Notre Dame freshman record for rushing in 2004, and following that with the 9th best rushing performance in Notre Dame history, he is barely denting the preseason Top-Ten lists for running backs, which are largely preoccupied with Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson. Historically, however, many of Notre Dame's running backs have had their best years as juniors - Autry Denson, Julius Jones, and Jerome Bettis to name a few. Darius, however, seems to have a lot of room for improvement, not only as a runner, but as a receiver as well. Darius may have an amazing season with teams focusing so much on "The Brady Bunch" of Quinn, Samardzija and McKnight.

Losses at Running Back:
Rashon Powers-Neal, suspended part-way through 2005 season for DUI
Junior Jabbie, Justin Hoskins - transferred [no significant contributions on field]

Depth at Running Back:
Travis Thomas (2003 recruit, 3 stars) - 2006 Special Teams Captain

2006 Recruits at Running Back:
James Aldridge, 5-star prospect from Crown Point, IN
Munir Prince, 3-star prospect from St. Louis, MO

Fullbacks

Asaph Schwapp, Fullback - Sophomore

2005 recruit, 2 stars
A strong kid who is going to be a force as a lead blocker in coming years. If this kid can learn to hold on to the ball, he'll develop into a real force in goal line situations.
2006 Recruit: Luke Schmidt, 3-star prospect from Jasper, IN

Wide Receivers

Jeff Samardzija, Wide Receiver - Senior

2005 Belitnikoff Award Finalist (given to Nation's top receiver)
Led Irish in receiving in 2005
Rhema McKnight, Wide Receiver - Senior
Led Irish in receiving in 2003 and 2004

Last year, at the beginning of the season it became clear that we had arguably the scariest trio of receivers in the country. The leading receiver from the previous two years was back, and freak-of-nature Maurice Stovall was finally playing to his potential, and phenomenal athlete Jeff Samardzija appeared seemingly out of nowhere. However, we also had one of the best tight ends in the country, and there wasn't much opportunity to put all four players on the field at the same time. When McKnight went down with injury in week 2, what I thought at the time would be a crushing blow has now become a blessing in disguise. Where Ty's recruiting failures would have left us a little lean at receiver had both McKnight and Stovall left, now the 2006 Irish have the leading receivers from the past three years on the field for their 2006 push. Read it here first - both receivers will contend for the Biletnikoff Award this year.

Losses at Wide Receiver:
Maurice Stovall, 2005 second receiver, projected 3rd round NFL draft pick

Depth at Wide Receiver:
D.J. Hord, sophomore (2005 recruit, 4 stars)
David Grimes, sophomore (2005 recruit, 3 stars)
Darin Bragg, junior (converted QB; 2004 recruit, 2 stars)

2006 Recruits at Wide Receiver:
Richard Jackson, 4-star prospect from Clermont, FL
Robby Paris, 3-star prospect from Cleveland, OH
Barry Gallup, 3-star prospect from Wellesley, MA

Tight Ends

John Carlson, Tight End - Senior OR
Marcus Freeman, Tight End - Senior


This will be one of the more interesting battles, as Charlie seeks to replace the mega-talented Anthony Fasano, who opted not to return for a fifth year. Both of these players have seen some time at Tight End last year, and both have the talent to play the position. Charlie certainly won't be scared to use multiple tight end formations with two established players being pushed by some excellent recruits. Look for true freshman Konrad Reuland to compete for playing time this fall.

Losses at Tight End:
Anthony Fasano, 2005 finalist for John Mackey Award (given to nation's top tight end)
Joey Hiben (2005 recruit, 4 stars) - left team to focus on academics

2006 Recruits at Tight End:
Konrad Reuland, 5-star prospect from Mission Viejo, CA
Paddy Mullen, 3-star prospect from St. Louis, MO
Will Yeatman, 3-star prospect from San Diego, CA

Offensive Line:

Ryan Harris, Tackle – Senior (6’5” 292 lbs.)
Dan Santucci, Guard/Center – Senior (6’4” 296 lbs.)
Bob Morton, Guard/Center – Senior (6’4” 298 lbs.)
John Sullivan, Guard/Center – Senior (6’3½” 280 lbs.)

Paul Duncan, Tackle – Sophomore (6’6½” 290 lbs.)


The offensive line should be very good this year, but it is not very deep. A few key injuries, and the talent of the skill positions will be tested to its limits to win games. Willingham’s recruiting left us with no quality recruits heading into next year, and although Coach Weis has been able to entice some talented recruits to commit to the Irish, next year’s offensive line will be young and not very deep (although very large and very talented). But next year we will deal with next year; this year we only lost two layers from last year’s two-deep depth chart, and should be able to give some young guys meaningful time. Barring injury, this year’s line should be at least as good as last years, with lots of experience and size.

Losses from Offensive Line:
Mark LeVoir - Projected NFL draft pick
Dan Stevenson - Projected NFL undrafted free agent

Depth at Offensive Line:
Brian Mattes, Guard/Center – Senior (6’5½” 287 lbs.)
Mike Turkovich, Tackle – Sophomore (6’6” 290 lbs.)

2006 Recruits for Offensive Line:
Chris Stewart, 4-star prospect from Klein, TX - enrolled early (6’4” 367 lbs.)
Sam Young, 5-star prospect from Ft. Lauderdale, FL (6’8” 300 lbs.)
Matt Carufel, 4-star prospect from St. Paul, MN (6’5” 280 lbs.)
Eric Olsen, 4-star prospect from Brooklyn, NY (6’5” 300 lbs.)
Daniel Wenger, 4-star prospect from Ft. Lauderdale, FL (6’4” 280 lbs.)
Bartley Webb, 3-star prospect from Springdale, AR (6’7” 290 lbs.)

*****

Check back next week for my installment on the defense.

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