It's finally here - I know you've all been waiting with baited breath for my position-by-position, game-by-game, depth chart dissecting, injury explaining, prognostications for the upcoming season. So here we go.
Part I - Quarterbacks
Of course I'm going to start easy. The quarterback position is not in doubt. Brady is THE MAN. Everything that this offense is going to do this year rest on the capable shoulders of everybody's preseason Heisman candidate, the Golden Boy under the Golden Dome. He will lead us to the Promised Land, out of the land of DavieHam mediocrity into the land of Weis and Winning.
So here is the easiest position preview of the year.
Brady Quinn, Senior (4 year starter)
Notre Dame Career leader in:
Attempts (1,090), Completions (611), Yards (8,050), Yards per game (230.0), Touchdown passes (58)
Notre Dame Single Season leader in:
Attempts (405, '05), Completion (263, '05), Yards (3,633, '05), Yards per game (330.3, '05), Touchdown passes (32, '05)
First player in Notre Dame history to throw for over 8,000 yards.
If he finished his career now, he would be the all-time ND leader in completion %.
Finished 4th in Heisman voting in 2005 (highest returning vote-getter).
From year one to year two, Brady went from 1,831 yards to 2,586 yards. From year 2 to year 3, he increased from 2,586 yards to 3,919 yards.
If Brady were to have average (for him) improvement from last year to this year, he would throw for approximately 5,000 yards (4,986 to be exact).
I have seen Brady Quinn up close. Close enough to watch him sign a football. This kid is strong, and as big as a linebacker. People tend to underrate Quinn's physical skills because they are so dazzled by his intangibles and intelligence. But this kid has some large caliber weapons for arms, looks as sturdy as an oak tree while remaining as nimble as a field mouse, and is quite simply an imposing figure.
When he is standing in the pocket, whether during the game, at practice in drills, or even when working one-on-one with a younger QB like Demetrius Jones, this kid exudes confidence. Confidence in his arm, confidence in his mind, confidence in his line, confidence in the play, confidence in his coach, confidence in himself.
He is meticulous. At the break of the huddle, he already knows at a glance whether he has to change the play based on the formation. Coming to the line of scrimmage, he has the understanding of Coach Weis' offense to check into the right pass route based on the position of the corner. (Something Weis just started to let Brady do this year). At the snap of the ball, he has a sixth sense about the pass rush, knowing just when to step up or duck under a tackle, all the while keeping his eyes downfield, working through his progressions and route trees - communicating with his receivers like they have a telepathic connection.
His mechanics are superb. His stance, his arm movements, his footwork, everything. He can throw on the run, off his back foot, or off balance.
And he has the cannon of an arm to deliver the ball 50 yards downfield across his body while dragging a defender behind.
Mark my words. Brady Quinn WILL win the Heisman.
He will be better this year than last year. His receivers (if they stay healthy) will be better this year than last year. His offensive line is not only experienced in terms of game time, but are also experienced in this complex offense. Darius Walker will be more than capable of providing a running threat, especially with D-Walk being pushed by speedster Munir Prince and all-around back James Aldridge. Weis trusts him in the offense.
But the reason that Brady will win the Heisman is not just what he does on the field, but also how he conducts himself off the field.
You won't find Brady Quinn gallavanting around with Hollywood starlets and kicking it with A-list celebs. He's too busy making sure he eats right, calls his Mom, and studies for his classes. You won't hear about him being embroiled in NCAA violations, 'cause this kid even makes sure he returns the Sharpies that he signs autographs with. You won't see him striking the Heisman pose after crossing the goal line, 'cause all he wants to do is win the Championship.
If you're sick of hearing about Brady Quinn, go climb into a cave for the next three months. Quinn IS the All-American boy. A hard working, midwestern, god-fearing boy with good looks, brains, a heap of natural athletic talent, and the charm of the smoothest Playboy. He is squeaky-clean and smells like Roses. It's enough to make a Notre Dame hater puke.
But ultimately, the week-in-week-out free exposure will give Brady the Heisman. You won't see any cheesy billboards or all-access websites or blogs about BQ paid for by the University. 'Cause ND doesn't need that. Every Heisman voter will see him every other week when they pick up the sports page, 'cause Brady will be featured on the front page. Every time they turn on SportsCenter, Brady will be staring them back, while simultaneously delivering highlight reel throws. When they get in the car, he'll be on the radio, and when they get to work, they'll be talking to him around the water cooler. When they surf the web, they will trip over talking heads like myself singing his praises. Or trying to bring the rest of the world back to sanity. But, the voices of hype and the throw-back "aw, shucks" attitude of Quinn himself are irresistable to the media.
Evan Sharpley, Sophomore
Sharpley has the advantage of experiencee in Coach Weis' complex offense, and at this point in training camp has emerged as the #2 option. However, Sharpley struggles with his accuracy and sometimes holds on to the ball too long. He doesn't have the physical tools to carry this team if he is called on, but he does understand the game plan enough to protect a lead if Quinn gets nicked.
Zach Frazer, Freshman
If Quinn goes down for longer than a part of a game, my money is on Zach Frazer to be named the starter. He has all of the physical tools you look for in a pro-style passing quarterback. He is confident in his arm, and moves well in the pocket. His arm strength is excellent and his accuracy is pretty good (except he often overthrows receivers on longer routes). He tends to put too much on shorter passes - he needs to develop some touch. However, he is the kind of gunslinger right now that could give you a Favre-esque type of performance - lots of good throws and touchdowns, but also a little cavalier with his throws, leading to more intercepetions.
Demetrius Jones, Freshman
Demetrius is an impressive physical specimen. He can run, he can throw, he can do things at the quarterback position that give defensive coordinators fits. However, Demetrius lacks confidence at this point. Whereas Frazer borders on overconfidence in chucking the ball downfield, Jones appears to have no confidence in his long ball. He is excellent on touch passes to checkdown receivers, with accuracy approaching Brady on those throws. However, he is still a long ways from becoming a complete enough quarterback to push for playing time. It will be interesting to watch his development going into next season, as Frazer and incoming phenom Claussen are similar QBS. If Jones is going to stay at and compete at QB, he will have to develop a game that complements his physical attributes, ala Michael Vick or Steve Young.