With fall camp starting today, I thought I'd take a couple of minutes to outline the story lines to watch over fall camp this year. For those of you in or around the South Bend area, there is an open practice on Sunday afternoon at the stadium, and you can come and see for yourself. I'm not sure yet whether I'll be going to the open practice (sacrilege, I know), as I may instead be headed to the beach with a hot brunette.
Freshman to Watch
Fall practice is always spotlight on the freshman making their first appearance. There are a handful from this class that are worth keeping your eye on:
Michael Floyd, WR Floyd was the jewel of last year's class - the staff's top target and the most potential for an early impact. Floyd still needs to work on some fundamentals (see below), but he has the raw talent to make an immediate impact (ala Arrelious Benn for Illinois).
Dayne Crist, QB A bit of a surprise, right on the heels of Clausen's high profile commitment last year, Crist committed despite being a clear backup walking in the door. His confidence and swagger are as impressive as his size (nearly as large as TE recruit Kyle Rudolph), strength and accuracy. He will be battling Sharpley for the backup spot. Not sure if he can absorb enough of the playbook quickly enough to make an impact this year (he'll likely 'redshirt'), but his development should be watched with great anticipation.
Kyle Rudolph, TE A complete package tight end, with that rare combination of size, strength, speed and hands that make him a great blocker as well as a great receiver, Rudolph could make an impact sooner rather than later. He has some talent ahead of him on the depth chart, with Mike Ragone and the recently reinstated Will Yeatman having the advantage of experience on Rudolph. However, with so few tight ends on the roster (Mullen moved to DT, Reuland transferred), Rudolph could see early work in goalline/3 TE sets.
Brandon Newman, Sean Cwynar, and Hafis Williams With the lack of depth on the D-line, these three kids should have ample opportunity to play themselves into the rotation. Newman is the most likely to see early playing time, if he shows up to camp in shape, as he already has the size to compete. Cwynar and Williams both need 15-20 pounds of bulk to be truly competitive.
Offensive Line Development
There has been much talk in the offseason about the offensive line. Reports out of spring and summer have shown that the entire offensive line has bulked up, and I can tell you from first hand knowledge that these guys look ripped. I ran into Chris Stewart on campus a couple of weeks ago, and he looks night and day from when he came to campus - he looks like he could rip trees out of the ground.
Wide Receiver route running
We know David Grimes has excellent route running and footwork, but the rest of the receiving corps last year leaned more on their innate physical ability than the fundamentals of good route runnning. With Grimes returning to lead this group, I would look for cleaner route running, especially from the youngsters Kamara and Tate.
Defensive Line Depth
Pat Kuntz is out of his damn mind, always has been, and I expect nothing less than everything he has on every play. Ian Williams showed promise last season as a true freshman. Behind those two, there isn't much to get excited about on the D-line so far. Paddy Mullen is working into the position, and the freshmen likely need some time to work into playing shape.
Backup QB Derby
Evan Sharpley rolls into summer as the solid backup to Clausen, but he spent most of his time on baseball this spring, and may have some lingering resentment about not being given a chance to compete with Clausen this offseason. With highly touted true frosh Dayne Crist coming in, the backup battle could get ugly. Either way, I just want to see signs that there will not be a major dropoff if Clausen goes down.
Mo Crum has locked down one of the inside linebacker spots, but the other MLB is still up in the air. Last year, it was hoped that Toryan Smith would take that spot, but now there have been rumors that we are moving Brian Smith inside, rather than leaving him outside where he had some success last year. There are a lot of players in the mix in the linebacker position, and the flexibility of the OLB/DE position complicates things even more. Hopefully, someone steps up and embraces the inside linebacker position and makes it their own.
I'm starting to feel like a broken record, but hopefully this year we can find a dependable place kicker so we don't have a repeat of last year's Navy game. (YOU KICK THE BALL TO TRY TO WIN THE GAME!!!)
There won't be much opportunity to garner much information about Haywood's playcalling or the Tenuta/Brown combo during practice, as all of the wrinkles will be kept under wraps until SDSU, if not Michigan.