Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Shark stays a Cub - forgoes NFL draft

I'm sure that puts a big grin on my buddy Brad's face, as the biggest Cubs fan I know, but I must say that I am a little disappointed that Jeff Samardzija is not going to play in the NFL.

I wanted the Shark to enter the NFL draft for mostly selfish reasons. I think he would have been one of the best receivers to come out of college in the last few years, and his presence near the top of the first round of the NFL draft would help recruiting.

However, I must begrudgingly admit that he probably made the safe choice. As a general rule, a baseball pitcher is going to be less injury prone than a receiver that gets hit almost every time he touches the ball. The money in baseball is potentially much greater than in the NFL, and he could have a much longer career.

My biggest concern is WHERE he signed on as a pitcher.

Now don't get me wrong, I am a huge Cubs fan. But I cringe when I hear the words "Kerry Wood" and "Mark Prior." The Cubs, famous for their curses, have been cursed of late when it comes to talented young pitchers. Hopefully, Jeff will be more Zambrano and less Prior.

Jeff, good luck in your career with the Cubs, and I wish you the best of luck.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Finally, it's official

In a noon press conference, Coach Weis introduced today our new defensive coordinator, Corwin Brown, and our new Quarterbacks coach, Ron Powlus.

Corwin Brown, for those unfamiliar with him, is of the Parcells-Belichik-Groh-Weis coaching tree. In fact, Coach Weis said that after speaking with Belichik, Parcells, and Crennel, that only one name was mentioned by all three - Coach Brown. Coach Brown was brought up in the Belichik defense, which has been notorious at the Patriots for being successful even when there are injuries - at one point, they had a wide receiver in defensive coverage. He doesn't have any coordinating experience, but he should bring some more intensity to the defense.

With these changes, I see the team improving in four key areas:
(1) recruiting - Powlus was in charge of on-campus recruiting for the last two years, and he has been tremendous in closing the deal with a lot of visiting recruits - as a Pennsylvania kid, I expect Coach Powlus to be in charge of the Pennsylvania-Ohio region. Brown is a Chicago kid with lots of contacts in the Chicago area, and he will be tasked with rebuiilding the once impenetrable pipeline of Chicago kids to Notre Dame.
(2) youth - Many people look at youth and inexperience as a disadvantage, but I think that in this context, it works in our favor. Young kids don't have bad habits, and they will be learning from the best. Corwin Brown will have the benefit of Coach Weis above him, and Coach Lewis below him, both of them teaching him how to manage the defense and assist him with the managerial aspects of his new position. Powlus, himself a former ND quarterback, will have one of history's best quarterback coaches teaching him the ropes as well in Coach Weis.
(3) energy - Coach Brown is an in-your-face guy with a lot of intensity and energy, which hopefully will help this team to play with more passion and pride. Too often under Coach Minter, the team looked like it was going through the motions. The only times I recall the defense playing inspired was when Coach Weis took it upon himself to get them fired up. Now, he won't have to bother. The youthful energy also will help us in recruiting - look at how Petey the Poodle over in South Central is doing with his "I'm a young energetic coach... Energetic, anyway!" routine. It will bring some vitality to a program that needs a shot in the arm.
(4) a new slate - This is a program in transition, suffering through the last painful shudders of a coach that nearly destroyed the program (don't believe me? count the seniors left from Ty's second recruiting class...). This is a program that has overachieved under Coach Weis tutelage, and is on the verge of taking the next step, from perennial BCS contender to perennial National Championship contender. The conventional wisdom believes that next year will be a "down" year, with this team going 7-5 or 8-4, and getting a berth in the Cotton or Gator bowl. I am not ready to give up the ghost just yet, however. We'll have a young QB, and an inexperienced defense learning a new system, but the talent level is really starting to ratchet up.

Talent Level in Transition

2006 Starters Ratings

5 stars:
Rhema McKnight
Derek Landri
Sam Young

4 stars:
Bob Morton
Brady Quinn
Jeff Samardzija
Victor Abiamiri
Ryan Harris
Chinedum Ndukwe
Tommy Zbikowski
Travis Thomas
Trevor Laws
Ambrose Wooden
John Sullivan
Terrail Lambert

3 stars:
Geoff Price
John Carlson
Ashley McConnell (started due to injury of Schwapp)
Joe Brockington
Darius Walker
Maurice Crum
Ronald Talley
Mitchell Thomas
Asaph Schwapp
David Grimes

2 stars:
Dan Santucci

1 star:
Mike Richardson

2007 possible starters' ratings: (ty's recruits in italics, my projected starters in bold)

5 stars:
Jimmy Clausen (QB)
Justin Trattou (DE)
Sam Young (OL)
James Aldridge (RB)
Konrad Reuland (#2 TE)

4 stars:
Tommy Zbikowski (S)
Travis Thomas (RB/LB)
Trevor Laws (DL)
Ambrose Wooden (CB)
John Sullivan (OL)
Terrail Lambert (CB)
, Gary Gray, Darrin Walls (CB - pick 1 for nickel back)
Raeshon McNeil or Sergio Brown (S = pick 1)
Michael Turkovich, Chris Stewart, Bartley Webb, Dan Wenger, Matt Carufel, Eric Olsen, Chris Little, Matt Romine, and Emeka Nwankwo (OL - pick 3)
D.J. Hord, Duval Kumara, Greg Little or Golden Tate (WR - pick 1)
Kallen Wade (DE)

3 stars:
Geoff Price (K)
John Carlson (TE)
Maurice Crum (LB)
Joe Brockington (LB)

Asaph Schwapp (FB)
David Grimes (WR)
Ian Williams (DL)
Toryan Smith (LB)

2 stars:
Ryan Burkhart (K)

1 star:

As you can see, the slow transition from 3 and 4 star kids to 4 and 5 star kids is coming around, and when we get all of the pieces in place, this will be one hell of a football team. This will be the last year we will see any of Ty's recruits, and if recruiting stays on course, you can expect fully 1/3 of the team to have 5-star talent by 2008.

You know who this team reminds me of? USC 2003

My pre-preseason prediction: 9-3, with an outside shot at a BCS berth. I predict losses to Michigan and USC, and a third loss to either Penn State, Georgia Tech or UCLA.

Best case scenario: 11-1, in the national championship game (we would have get lucky to split the games against Michigan and USC, and play to the maximum of our potential to win all the others)

Worst case scenario: 7-5, in the Insight Bowl. I just don't see us losing more than 5 games - we should handle Navy, Air Force, Duke, and Stanford easily, and I can't see this team doing worse than 3-3 versus Penn State, Georgia Tech, Michigan State, Purdue, UCLA, and Fredo. The other two losses would be to Michigan and USC - Michigan has too much experience, and USC has too much talent.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Recruiting fizzle

With national signing day just around the bend, it appears that Notre Dame's recruiting cycle is about over.

Will Blackwell, our final remaining big-time Defensive Tackle target, committed to LSU.

Major Wright, the hard-hitting safety, is widely being reported as an Ohio State lean.

We still have a shot at running back Robert Hughes out of Chicago, but rumors put him going to Illinois. (Which is unfortunate, as we will be having an open tryout at running back in Spring practice with Darius leaving)

We may get another recruit or two before the big day, but I doubt we'll see any big Top-100 splashes coming out way.

All told, however, this is another top 10 recruiting class, and provides this team with the base it needs to be competitive going forward. We are still a little thin, expecially at defensive line, but our depth is slowly improving (albeit with inexperienced but athletic players).

Still no word on Corwin Brown. I wonder what's taking so long?