Team Leaders 2008
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish suffered from a severe lack of leadership in their ranks last season, after losing one of their best all-time leaders in Brady Quinn.
This year, the leadership on the team is still in transition, but should be coming together throughout the season. Many of the people who will likely be stepping into leadership roles are still relatively young, and should provide strong leadership going into 2009, which I think will be a special year for the Fightin' Irish.
Jimmy Clausen, quarterback
The offensive leadership always starts with the quarterback, and the biggest question this year is whether sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen can take on that leadership role successfully.
The best sign of him stepping up as a leader is his dedication to offseason conditioning. Coach Weis discussed Clausen's physical shape coming into the Spring during his pre-spring press conference:
Jimmy (Clausen), last year, started off at 194 and he's walking in at 212 for the first day of training camp. That is obviously a significant gain. His body fat is status quo but has a lot more lean muscle.
Another measurable aspect of leadership is knowledge. Leaders are the people on the field that their teammates look to to get direction. To give good direction, they must understand the game plan. Weis has been positive in his praise of Clausen regarding his progress in this regard.
The final aspect of leadership is intangible, and can't be developed - it can only be earned. To paraphrase Coach Weis from one of his pressers, Jimmy must become the guy that the team looks to to run the play rather than just the guy they look at to call the play.
From what I've seen and heard this spring, the verdict is still out on Jimmy as a leader. He has all of the tools of a good leader, and physically and mentally he is in better shape to display them. Whether he can rally the troops when the chips are down and the breaks are beating the boys (in addition to being a terribly mixed metaphor) remains to be seen.
Sam Young, offensive tackle
Sam Young, in a not-so-well-kept secret last year, went into Weis' office and asked him what he could do to become a better leader on this team. As a sophomore.
Physically, he's a beast at 6'8" 330 lbs. He is a true phenom, who has shown incredible natural athletic ability in addition to his god-given size. And his work ethic is amazing, who has led the charge in the weight room this offseason that has given the offensive line a lot more strength.
But his heart and dedication have been truly impressive. After a brief stint at left tackle last year (the result of an injured wrist), he is back at his natural position at right tackle, where he can serve as a roadgrader for the rushing attack.
Of all of the leaders on this team, Young has the biggest burden, trying to resurrect a line that was responsible for the worst rushing attack in school history last year.
David Grimes, wide receiver
Although unlikely to be the go-to receiver, or even a legitimate deep threat, Grimes is the elder statesman of the receiving corps, which is loaded with young talent. He is an astounding possession receiver, with a talent for working the sidelines unlike anyone I can recall in recent memory. However, his lack of height and pure speed will likely keep him from long term success in the NFL.
His understanding of the game and incredible work ethic should be invaluable to younger receivers like Duval Kamara, Golden Tate and incoming freshmen Michael Floyd and Deion Walker.
David Bruton, safety
Nobody on the 2008 roster has me more excited this season than David Bruton. Last year, something clicked in Bruton's head, and he quickly proved himself superior to preseason All-American Tom Zbikowski, the other safety on the field for the Irish last year.
Bruton has an incredible awareness of the game, and some sick closing speed. I don't recall the exact game right now (and am admittedly too lazy to go back and figure it out), but I remember sitting in the stands and watching him break from right of midfield to make a diving interception near the left sideline between the time the QB set his feet and when the ball arrived.
He has no fear when it comes to bringing the wood, and can lay people out. He's a lot like former standout Chinedum Ndukwe, only with more raw athleticism.
The really scary thing for opponents is that there is no real weakness in his game. He is extremely disciplined, and doesn't give up the big play. However, he manages this in the aggressive scheme that Notre Dame plays, without sacrificing run support.
Maurice Crum, Jr., linebacker
Crum is a two-time captain for the Irish this year, a rarity for Notre Dame players. Last year's scheme funneled everything into the capable hands of Trevor Laws and Maurice Crum, who both showed an incredible game-changing ability.
If you want to see exactly how much potential Crum has for disrupting opposing offenses, just go back and watch last year's UCLA game. He has the natural ability of an outside linebacker, and I thought going into the last 2 seasons that he wasn't big enough to play the middle. However, he has consistently proven me wrong, showing not only stoutness inside, but a penchant for forcing turnovers.
Crum (along with Bruton) was named to the preseason watch list for the Nagurski trophy.
Pat Kuntz, defensive tackle
Although he isn't on the roster for the Irish right now (he is struggling with meeting Notre Dame's academic standards) the word on the street is that Kuntz will be back in uniform this fall. If he isn't, it will be a major blow to the Irish who are very thin along the defensive line.
Kuntz is crazy. The kind of crazy that made watching Steve Irwin stick his head in the maw of a crocodile riveting. And that level of crazy makes him a wild card inside, with a motor that never quits and a disregard for personal safety that borders on the absurd. Much like Notre Dame great Michael Stonebreaker, you want to tread softly around him, mostly because you have no idea whether at any moment he is about to bust out a spin move and sack the quarterback or open his gaping maw and bite your damn head off.
There are plenty of knocks on Kuntz. Not smart enough. Not big enough. Not fast enough.
But I dare you to block him. Proceed at your own risk.