OK, so I've been a little slow on the uptake in blogging recently, due to a recent promotion at work. Soon, I will be traveling the country for my law firm, training other attorneys about various aspects of their jobs. I'm really excited about this new opportunity, and can't wait to start traveling. For the next month or two, though, blogging is going to be sporadic at best while I get my replacement (a NDLS classmate) up to speed and settle into my new responsibilities.
That said, I'm going to try to piece together where we stand headed into the Blue-Gold game today (which I should be attending, work permitting).
It all begins and ends here. For years, offensive line play has been a weak link on our team, and it is the most important piece of the puzzle to have consistent offensive success. Latina, for all of his success prior to his stint at ND, just couldn't get the job done. It seems like all he taught the players to do was cut block.
With Frank Verducci stepping in, my hope is that we finally have the kind of guy that can get these guys motivated to win one-on-one matchups. They are talented enough to be a great unit, but need to take that next step this offseason.
I especially want to see improvement on running plays - even in a zone blocking scheme, you can attack the defense. I want to see a mean, nasty attitude coming off the line and taking the fight to the defense, rather than waiting for them to come to us.
Paul Duncan looks good going into his 5th year, and should provide the rock we need outside on pass protection. Sam Young should also be solid at the other tackle position, and I hope the coaching change can take his play to the next level.
Eric Olsen is the heart of this line, and brings the passion and nastiness we need on the line. Hopefully he steps up as a leader and lights a fire under his teammates.
Sam Young has been solid, but in his last year as a starter, it's time to start blowing people up. If he wants to impress NFL scouts, he needs to play to the level he was expected as the #1 overall recruit out of Florida his freshman year.
I like our Tight End situation this year. We are returning our starter from last year (Kyle Rudolph), and he's going to be pushed by an upper classman who was also highly touted coming out of high school (Mike Ragone). Also, true freshman Joseph Fauria is making strides as well. We can finally run more two tight end sets, which opens the offense a little more.
Of course, any discussion of our receiving corps starts with Golden Tate. I'm not sure what the numbers are on his track speed, but he has incredible football speed. Armando Allen is fast, and Golden ran him down from behind after getting a pancake block on the kick return against Hawai'i.
As a true freshman, Floyd destroyed the record books, and he has a lot of room to grow. He is the clear second option, and it doesn't seem like anyone is going to challenge him for that starting role.
Where this competition gets interesting starts at the third slot. Goodman, Parris, Walker, Kamara, and West are all battling to get on the field. That competition, by all accounts, has raised the bar for all of them. Robby Parris has been singled out by Coach Weis, and Walker and Goodman both have a chance. Kamara looked to be back to form, but then suffered a hamstring injury. West appears to have fallen down the depth chart, but he's capable of working his way back up.
Armando seems to be the clear #1 going into this season, which is an improvement from the running back by committee we've had the last couple of years. Of course, that doesn't meaan that the other backs won't see the field, but I think Armando has finally learned to translate his speed into effectiveness on the field.
Robert Hughes isn't resting on his laurels behind Armando, and since he's a completely different type of back, he could almost be considered a starter in the more pound-it tye of packages.
What's interesting to me is to see how the guys behind them factor in. Jonas Gray looked good in limited action last year, and Cierre Wood is a 5-star recruit coming in from high school.
Also, James Aldridge is healthy, and would be our starting fullback, if we started a game in that package. Weis would also play him as tailback in a pound-it type of package, against teams like Nevada and Michigan State.
Jimmy Clausen is the starter. Let's not go crazy about Dayne Crist yet. However, since we've burned Dayne's redshirt year, there's no reason that he can't push Jimmy. If he wins the battle, great! But, I don't think he will. What's nice is that for the first time since Weis has been here, we have two legitimate QB's that can start a game. In 2007, we had two starters, but neither of them were that great.
Also, we have Nate Montana as a 3rd option, who can try to develop his skills. He certainly has the bloodlines. Also, John Goodman is a good QB aswell, but is more likely to see the field as a QB.
I'm not sure what to make of our defensive line yet. Ian Williams is a clear cut starter inside, and it looks like there is a battle for the other inside slot. Hafis Williams has the other slot right now, but Brandon Newman isn't going to just roll over. Tyler Stockton and Sean Cwynar are also in the mix.
I think we may end up with a 3-man rotation for the two slots, with Ian Williams eating up the most minutes.
At defensive end, we have a lot of options. Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore are the listed starters right now, but I'm guessing that several players will rotate in and out depending on the situation. Richardson, Nwankwo, Ryan, Wade, and Neal will all get considerable minutes. This competition could make this a strength on our team.
Brian Smith appears to be stepping into the leadership role for the linebackers. He is a freak of an athlete, and will be the rock of this defense at the weakside linebacker. Darius Fleming's athleticism has him starting at the strong side, but I'm curious to see how the competition plays out. Incoming freshman Manti Te'o will light a fire under these guys over the summer.
Inside, Toryan Smith has stepped up his game, and appears to be the hard hitter we need against pound it teams, to take the pressure off of the tackles. He won't be used in passing situations, however, as he is a bit of a liability in coverage.
Scott Smith could get some time at linebacker as well, which would be kind of awesome, with the 3 Smiths.
I am really excited about this group.
At corner, we have 4 players that I think would start fo nealy every other Division I school battling it out for two spots. McNeil and Blanton are currently listed as the starters, but I think Darrin Walls will win back his spot once he shakes all the rust off. And Jamoris Slaughter will see plenty of the field as well.
At safety, I think things are a little more settled. I don't see how you can keep Harrison Smith off the field, as he's a playmaker. And Kyle McCarthy seems to hav separated himself as a clear #1.
That doesn't mean we lack depth, however. Sergio Brown has proven he can play at a high level, and Dan McCarthy is just itching to get on the field with his brother.
I dub this defense the No-Names. If we were in a nickel defense, we could have on the field at one time: Richardson, Johnson, McNeil, McCarthy, McCarthy, Williams, Williams, Smith, Smith, Smith, and Smith. That's ridiculous.