Friday, August 18, 2006

Notre Dame Preseason Football Preview 2006 - Part I

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.

Starting Quarterback
Brady Quinn, Senior (4 year starter)

Career accomplishments:
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).

Fun fact:
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).

Preseason Prognostication
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.

Backup Quarterbacks

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.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Selling an autographed football

I got this football signed by Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija, Tom Zbikowski, Rhema McKnight, and Darius Walker. I had them sign it last week after Wednesday's football practice.

I was going to keep it as a keepsake of my thrid year of law school and the magical season I expect us to have this year. However, I recently ran into a situation where I need money to take care of my family.

Therefore, I am selling this football to help defer some personal costs.

I assure you, it is 100% authentic. The side of the football pictured has Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija, and Darius Walker's signatures and the Notre Dame logo pictured. The reverse side has Tom Zbikowski and Rhema McKnight's signatures, and the 2006-2007 Football Schedule. I have witnesses who will verify the authenticity of the autographs if you need it.

I would be happy to provide more pictures of the football and signatures to any prospective buyers.

This is very important for me and my family, and I honestly don't know what a football like this is worth. If you are interested, please e-mail me at If I don't receive enough response from this blog and, I will probably have to post it on e-bay.

However, I would really like this to go to someone who really cares about the team, and not some sports memorabilia person who is just in it to make a quick buck.

My first ever "mailbag" post!

Have you had the chance to watch practice? What are your thoughts on freshman RB james aldridge?

Sioux City, IA

I have watched a couple of practices, but James Aldridge is not participating in full contact drills as he recovers from knee surgery.

He is, however, participating in running drills. He looks like he is in amazing shape. The kid looks like Adrian Peterson, as far as the type of athlete. This kid has great footwork, and all signs point to him being a prototypical go-to #1 running back. He's got breakaway speed and it looks like he has every down power. However, despite his great footwork, his lack of participation in contact drills has kept me from being able to judge his vision, hitting ability, and other characteristics that make a great running back.

The word on Aldridge is that he'll be healthy near the beginning of the regular season. I expect Coach Weis to be keeping a close watch on his development early in the season. He looks like he has the raw athletic ability to challenge Darius next year.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Charlie reads my blog!

OK, so I'm deluded. However, Coach Weis may have seen the same thing in his quarterbacks that I've seen this past week.

Charlie said the following this past weekend when asked about his confidence in playing one of his backups should something happen to Brady Quinn:
"There's two different mentalities . . . One mentality is finishing the game and the other mentality is building the game plan around a player. So they are two different things. One is you have a game plan and now you're putting somebody in to run that game plan. The other one is you lose the first guy and now you've got to play the guy that gives you the best chance of winning. And the answer might not be the same guy. It might be, but it might not be, because they are two totally different situations. So when you're looking at a backup quarterback you've got to look at two situations. One is a guy is out for four plays 'cause he's dinged, and the other one is the guy's hurt and he's going to be gone for a while. And you know, we've still got to win the game. You can't throw in the towel because your quarterback gets hurt. Obviously, no matter where you go, when your first quarterback goes out, there's going to be a big dropoff to the second one. But the teams that are most prepared are the ones that usually can handle that and don't turn it into a complete crisis. I mean, knock on wood, nobody wants anything happening to them. But those are the two different scenarios you have. And they are two totally different scenarios. I have to find the answers to both of those questions. It might be one guy, it might be two guys."

As I stated earlier this week, Evan Sharpley looks like the kind of guy you can put in the game to execute the offense and not lose the game. However, if (God forbid) anything should happen to Brady, right now it looks like Zach Frazer is the kind of player you can build a game plan around and send in there to win the next game. I think that Coach Weis has seen some of that in practice, and depending on what happens during the next few practices, may have two backup quarterbacks depending upon the situation.

The football intelligence of Coach Weis is astounding. His encyclopedic knowledge of the situations a team can face and his meticulous preparation make me believe that we will get to the point where Notre Dame ought to be - that is, competing every year for the national championship regardless of injuries, setbacks, and other unforseen circumstances. Because under Coach Weis, there is no such thing as an unforseen circumstance.

Monday, August 14, 2006

How Purdue looks at Notre Dame...

I found this gem online today, and I can't help but think that Purdue now thinks that their Sun Bowl ring from two years ago holds some mystical power over Coach Weis, the Robot Genius who has proven his ability to single handedly decimate the Boilermakers of Purdue. From the picture Purdue has drawn of their futile attempts to destroy the Robot Genius, we should win handily this year:

In the same vein, check out the superheroes that ESPN came up with. Apparently, the Purdue Trumpets didn't make the cut.

Dumbest self-hype idea ever. The guy at Purdue who came up with this should be shot. And so should his boss.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Depth Chart Breakdown

The South Bend Tribune released the following depth chart coming out of the first week of practice. It is still early, and I am sure that there are still some positions that Coach Weis might change going forward, but this is where we stand after the first week of training camp:


83 Jeff Samardzija 6-5 218 Sr.
11 David Grimes 6-0 168 So.
74 Sam Young 6-7 292 Fr.
77 Michael Turkovich 6-6 292 So.
50 Dan Santucci 6-4 296 Sr.
55 Eric Olsen 6-4 290 Fr.
78 John Sullivan 6-4 290 Sr.
51 Dan Wenger 6-4 285 Fr.
76 Bob Morton 6-4 298 Sr.
73 Matt Carufel 6-5 288 Fr.
79 Brian Mattes 6-6 287 Sr.
72 Paul Duncan 6-7 290 So.
89 John Carlson 6-6 250 Sr.
87 Marcus Freeman 6-3 245 Sr.
5 Rhema McKnight 6-2 212 Sr.
19 George West 5-8 179 Fr.
10 Brady Quinn 6-4 227 Sr.
13 Evan Sharpley 6-2 204 So.
44 Asaph Schwapp 6-0 250 So.
35 Ashley McConnell6-0 256 Sr.
3 Darius Walker 5-10 207 Jr.
25 Munir Prince 5-10 175 Fr.

95 Victor Abiamiri 6-4 270 Sr.
57 D. Stephenson 6-2 248 Sr.
98 Trevor Laws 6-1 283 Sr.
91 Travis Leitko 6-7 280 Sr.
66 Derek Landri 6-3 277 Sr.
96 Pat Kuntz 6-2 270 So.
99 Ronald Talley 6-4 262 Jr.
75 Chris Frome 6-5 262 Sr.
26 Travis Thomas 6-0 209 Sr.
52 Joe Brockington 6-1 220 Sr.
40 Maurice Crum 6-0 220 Jr.
49 Toryan Smith 6-0 230 Fr.
47 Mitchell Thomas 6-3 232 Sr.
54 Anthony Vernaglia 6-3 230 Jr.
22 Ambrose Wooden 5-11 193 Sr.
2 Darrin Walls 6-1 175 Fr.
18 Chinedum Ndukwe 6-2 218 Sr.
27 David Bruton 6-2 192 So.
9 Tom Zbikowski 6-0 210 Sr.
6 Ray Herring 6-0 189 So.
30 Mike Richardson 5-11 188 Sr.
20 Terrail Lambert 5-11 188 Jr.

45 Carl Gioia 5-11 170 Sr.
39 Ryan Burkhart 5-11 185 Fr.
45 Carl Gioia 5-11 170 Sr.
39 Ryan Burkhart 5-11 185 Fr.
17 Geoff Price 6-3 197 Sr.
43 Eric Maust 6-3 180 Fr.
83 Jeff Samardzija 6-5 218 Sr.
13 Evan Sharpley 6-2 204 So.
61 J.J. Jansen 6-3 242 Jr.
72 Paul Duncan 6-7 290 So.

11 David Grimes 6-0 168 So.
19 George West 5-8 179 Fr.
9 Tom Zbikowski 6-0 210 Sr.
19 George West 5-8 179 Fr.

Surprises at the starting positions:

Sam Young is penciled in at LEFT tackle. I am not surprised that Young has played his way into a starting position right out of the gates. I am surprised that Coach Weis has so much confidence in him that he is using him to protect Brady Quinn's blind side against the opposing defense's best pass rushers. This kid must really have impressed this week.

While at this point I am not surprised that Travis Thomas is starting at the weakside linebacker, I must say that I am impressed with how quickly he has been able to pick up the position. He is fast and he is not afraid to hit.

Surprises in the two deep:

George West is in the two deep at receiver. Maybe he impressed in the other days of practice, but I thought his hands were suspect during Wednesday's drills. As I said previously, this guy is shifty and can make people miss with the ball in his hands. However, I think that Richard Jackson has better physical skills for the receiver position. I am NOT surprised to see him penciled in at punt returner and kick returner. He will be fun to watch there.

Darrin Walls and Terrail Lambert passed Raeshon McNeil in the two deep at corner. I thought (from the drill I saw) that McNeil was one of the better corners we had during camp. If the coaching staff has such confidence in Walls and Lambert that McNeil is not in the two deep, we are in good shape at corner.

Disappointments in the starting positions:

Carl Gioia kept his place as starting placekicker. This guy just isn't that good. He's not horrible, but he's no D.J. Fitzpatrick. I really wasn't expecting Burkhart to come in as a true freshman and earn a starting nod, but I am disappointed. Our kicking game will likely be suspect all year. And, as Coach Weis said, if he doesn't have confidence in his kicker, he is far more likely to go for it on fourth down. Now, while I have great confidence in our offense, drives that stall at the opponent's thirty yard line with a turnover on downs are game-shifters. I am not an advocate of punting from inside the 35 like Boob and Ty, but football is often a game of field position, and a turnover on downs like that is a major shift in field position. If we get into another defensive struggle this year (like we did against Michigan last year), this problem has the potential to rob us of a championship.

Disappointments in the two deep:

Richard Jackson did not get a nod ahead of George West. This Jackson kid has gamebreaking speed. When he gets off the line clean, he can burn a cornerback like nobody I can remember since the Rocket.

Zach Frazer did not pass Sharpley on the depth chart. Sharpley understands the offense better, but Frazer has more of the physical tools to not just execute the offense, but excel at it. I think that Sharpley is good enough to not lose games. I think Frazer is good enough to win games.

Cautionary note:

Coach Weis is saying a lot of good things about our defense, but I'm still not sold on either Mitchell Thomas or Vernaglia in the strong side linebacker spot. I hope they prove me wrong, but I expect that Zbikowski will spend a lot of time and energy correcting their mistakes this year.

Some things to be excited about:

Munir Prince. This kid can MOVE. He accelerates all the way through the play, and can be the gamebreaking back that we haven't had in a long time. He needs to juke less and run more, but this kid will surprise some teams this year when he steps in to spell Darius.

Defensive line. This group has the two things that offensive line coaches hate: size and speed. Most of these guys are both bigger and faster than they were last year. Vic Abiamiri looks ready to break out this year, and Trevor Laws can really get penetration quickly. The depth here is actually far better than I expected it to be coming into the year. We are going to need some big time recruits in this year's recruiting class to overcome the depth problems for next year, but right now this will be the strength of the defense.

No Practice Report, Day Five

I apologize for not reporting on Friday's practice - I had some personal issues to deal with for a little while. Let me assure you that I will be there for updates every Tuesday and Sunday through the season. I did not watch Friday's practice, and I would like to apologize to you for not reporting on the latest developments, but I promise to continue to provide you with the best insights I can provide from the campus of Our Lady's University during a special season.

I can guaranteee that I will blog every Sunday for post-game analysis, and every Tuesday for pre-game analysis.

Please, if you have any questions regarding Notre Dame football, e-mail me at I assure you that I will respond as quickly as possible, and that I look forward to the opportunity to respond to the questions of the Irish faithful going forward into the season.