Wednesday, August 29, 2007

2007 Position Preview - Receivers and Tight Ends

Although I haven't been posting a lot lately, I haven't stopped talking about Notre Dame football in the interim. All offseason I've been telling whoever would listen not to count out D.J. Hord at receiver, where all of the "buzz" had been about freshman Duval Kamara. With the depth chart out, D.J is right back in the mix, and Kamara is buried down the list a bit.

However, Kamara's position that far down the list is a testament to the depth and talent Coach Weis and Co. have been stockpiling at receiver. Almost any team outside the top 10-15 would trade their top 4 receivers for Kamara, Gallup, Tate, and Jackson - this year's also-rans on the ND depth chart.

Now that rational minds have prevailed, here's a look at Notre Dame's 2007 receving squad.

Wide Receivers
This year's recevers are the greenest set of recevers I can recall going back, well. forever. Three receivers have at least one catch in a game - Grimes has 28, West has 2, and Parris has 1. That's a grand total of 31 catches in a game for the entire team. The only other experience is the 7 kickoff returns that D.J. Hord had in 2005.

Also, this year's receiving corps does not have the big, imposing receivers we've become used to over the past couple of years. We won't be seeing a lot of jump ball fade routes into the corner of the endzone. However, the smaller stature receivers are often faster, and we will see more wide receiver screens, quick slants and outs, and other routes that get the receivers the ball underneath with room to make a move after the catch.

Listening to Coach Weis during the offseason, however, I'm not as concerned about this receiving corps as I ought to be. Weis' vast experience as an offensive coordinator has had him work with big athletic receivers like KeyShawn Johnson in the NFL, as well as with groups of smaller receivers like Deion Branch, David Patten, and David Givens. In fact, his Super Bowls were won with smaller receivers. And his general optimism about the athleticism and depth of this group is encouraging.

Because of all of the different formations, these are what appear to be the top four receivers on the team, the receivers that would fill out a five-wide set (assuming that Carlson or Allen or some other non-receiver takes the 5th slot). Anyone else on the depth chart will likely only get spot action and mop-up time.

#1 Z receiver - David Grimes, Junior
The leading returning receiver from last year, Grimes was dependable, if not exciting. Played as a kick returner as well, but showed no real explosiveness.
However, despite his lackluster performance last year as the 3rd receiver, he has experience, speed, good hands, and is a great route runner. As the #1 option, he won't be in the mx for national awards or anything this year, but he will be a very efficient receiver. Carlson will be the guy with all of the hype and attention, but Grimes will quietly rack up decent numbers during the season - something lke 900 yards receiving with 7-10 touchdowns.

#1 X receiver - George West, Sophomore
With 2 catches last year, there is hardly enough game experience to consider West "experienced." However, he does have a touchdown, and has shown us flashes of shiftiness and speed that can make him very dangerous. The mere fact that he held off D.J. Hord and Robby Parris for this slot through all of the competition leads me to believe that he will be productive. Because he's flashy, he could get more attention than Grimes this season, while not putting up the same kind of raw numbers.

#2 X receiver - Robby Parris, Sophomore
At 6'4", Parris' height helped him out this offseason, as he is the only receiver on this list who can go up and get the fade route jump balls we have seen so much from Brady and the Shark.
Because of the limited practices and almost nonexistent game experience (1 catch) I haven't really gotten a feel for his athletic ablity. However, his position as, basically, the #3 receiver has me excited. From what I have seen, the drop-off from Grimes (a known quantity) to a healthy and productive D.J. Hord isn't that big. So for Parris to work his way into this rotation is very positive.

#2 Z receiver - D.J. Hord, Junior (RS)
D.J. Hord hasn't had a significant snap in far too long, having sat out last season with an injury to his achilles. When he went down, Grimes and Hord were basically 3A and 3B on the depth chart. There is going to be a natural dropoff with the lack of experience between Hord and Grimes, but on raw ability, there isn't much of a difference. During the spring, Hord still didn't trust his achilles, and wasn't moving up the depth chart.
Once the hitting started this fall, however, Hord learned that he can take a hit and not reinjure his heel. Thus, during the brief training camp he's been moving up the depth chart.
I expect his improvement to continue as the season progresses, and we may see him challenging for the #2 receiver spot by mid-season. He's a talented receiver that has been flying under the radar since his injury, and this is his season to prove himself as the threat that he can be.


Barry Gallup, Jr., Sophomore
Gallup is listed on the depth chart as the #3 Z receiver, and will probably get some spotty action in games this year, but the former Massachussets high school player of the year hasn't yet gotten separation from the rest of the small, speedy receivers.

Duval Kamara, Freshman
All of the hype about Kamara walking into Notre Dame and being an immediate answer in a depleted receiving corps was just that - hype and bluster. Kamara is clearly a talented receiver, but it takes time to learn the playbook and develop the fundamental techniques that make a starting receiver in what is basically an NFL offense.

Golden Tate, Freshman
Speedy and shifty, Tate's presence will be felt first from his role as a starting kick returner. A running back in high school, Tate has pure running ability to go with his speed that the other receivers simply don't have.
What he lacks (and what is keeping him down on the depth chart), is hands. He needs to spend some time with the JUGS machine to develop his catching skills.
Once he learns to catch the ball, Golden will be a superstar for the Irish.
If he doesn't learn to catch the ball, his natural athleticism will get him onto the field as a starter somewhere, and sooner rather than later.

Richard Jackson, Sophomore
Since I already boasted about predicting D.J. Hord's rise up the depth chart, I should take my lumps on Richard Jackson. As early as last spring, I was predicting that Richard Jackson would be ND's next great receiver.
In my defense, he stll may be. He's been spotted in practice with a soft cast on his arm, so an injury is hampering his progress (Coach Weis denied rumors that Jackson was done for the season). Apparently, he's been struggling catching passes (it's unknown whether this is related to his injury). He has the size and athletic ability to be a great receiver, but thus far hasn't panned out.
Jackson was not listed on the depth chart at receiver that was released this week.

Walk-Ons: Brandon Erickson, Jake Richardville, Nick Possley, Kris Patterson, Sam Vos

Tight Ends

Many times on this board I have commented how insane our tight end recruiting has been under Coach Weis. With all of the inexperience at wide receiver, I'm not too worried about our passing game. Heck, if the receivers don't pan out, we can just concoct a four tight end set that will get the job done. Our depth chart at tight end is like USC's running back depth chart - any of the players from top to bottom would START at almost EVERY other university in the country.

John Carlson, Senior (RS)
Carlson is, quite simply, the best tight end in the country. And by the end of the season, I'm certain that the voting for the Mackey Award won't be close (he's the lone returning Mackey Award finalist). He can catch better than most receivers, and block better than most offensive tackles. He has no fear, as he is usually the biggest, strongest, baddest motherf#@ker on the field. I can't find any flaws in his game, with the lone exception that he lacks truly elite speed. That said, I'm not sure that truly elite speed is physically possible when you are 6'6" tall and weigh almost 260 lbs. He is so good, in fact, that he was named to the Maxwell award (for most outstanding player of the year) watch list this year as a tight end. Hell, if I had a Heisman vote I'd probably spend it on him.
More importantly, Carlson has developed into the leader of this team on offense, and will provide an anchor for the yound receivers to rally around, as well as a dependable relief valve for the inexperienced QB. Without Carlson, even I would be writing off this season for the Irish - the intangibles he brings into the huddle are as important as his athletic ability.


Wll Yeatman, Sophomore
An All-American caliber lacrosse player, Yeatman is a freak athlete who appeared only as a blocking tight end last year, loggng about 30 minutes of playing time. However, expect him to have some balls thrown his way this year as well - his position above Reuland on the dpeth chart was a bit of surprise, as Reuland was more highly touted out of high school. This shakeup shows that ratings aren't everything - you have to show up in practice ready to play.

Konrad Reuland, Sophomore
The consensus #1 tight end in the country coming out of high school, Reuland is another freak athlete, who excelled in basketball as well as football. He has all of the physical tools that Carlson sports this year - size, speed, hands, strength. What I haven't yet seen from him is the drive - that internal motor that motivates players during practice. It's easy to get up for game day, I want to see him practicing with more intensity to develop his limitless potential.

Mike Ragone, Freshman
The word on Ragone that I keep hearing out of practice is that he runs like a receiver inside the body of a tight end. This kid, like most great tight ends, is another freak athlete. He was rated as the top heavyweight wrestler in the east coming out of high school. Heck, even taking his senior season off due to injury, he was rated as a top 3 tight end in the country by every major recruiting service. Before his injury, he was a consensus #1.
Ragone has more speed than hs counterparts, but has a way to go on his blocking skills. There is no rush to get him into the starting rotation right now - let him focus on learning the position and getting ready to compete next year.

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