Saturday, September 01, 2007

Quarterback Controversy

Having rewatched the game, reread everything I could find on the quarterbacks this year, and having watched Coach Weis' press conference multiple times, I think I am starting to get a grasp on the quarterback controversy.

Clausen is our starting quarterback. And probably will be going forward. His rehab disrupted his ability to rep with the first team during training camp, which meant that he couldn't play himself into the starting position during camp. He is 100% now, but wasn't 100% until very recently.

Sharpley is not good. I've been saying this for a long time, but he was kept in the mix because he does have a decently strong arm. And without Clausen available to throw the ball, Weis needed someone who could throw the ball around. And this is because...

Jones is not a quarterback. He's a decent running back, and probably a better receiver. But he can't throw the ball. If he was the passing quarterback with legs that everyone claimed he was, Weis would have used him to run his offense. But instead, Coach Weis planned on using Sharpley to run the 2-minute offense or if he needed a more pass heavy offense. Weis has all but admitted that Jones is useless as a passer.

Part of me can understand why Weis handled this game the way he did regarding the quarterbacks. I can understand how he would be uncomfortable starting a QB that has had only days to rep woth the first team. And hindsight is 20/20.

But he was simply wrong for choosing to start Demetrius Jones. Jones may be a very good athlete, but you cannot win a game in this league without a passing threat. And instituting a whole new offensive package for Jones on top of the existing playbook is just one more thing for this young inexperienced team to have to deal with.

I agree that he couldn't, with any credibility, start Clausen if he hadn't been practicing and earning the respect of his teammates, especially as a true freshman. A true freshman with a (deserved or not) reputation as a kid with a ridiculous diva complex and sense of entitlement.

So he should have started Sharpley. Have Sharpley run the offense he designed for Clausen, and let Clausen work his way into the starting job. If we do that, we may be able to stay in today's game (although there are so many other breakdowns, I'm not sure the QB would have made the difference). More importantly, it gives the team an identity and a direction. Everyone knows what we are doing, and the team can focus on the gameplan. As in one. Rather than having what amounts to two different gameplans grafted onto one another.

I hope that once the dust settles and cooler minds prevail, that Weis will do what is best for this team, and name Clausen the starter. Use his iron fist and crush anyone who has a problem with it. Name Sharpley as the backup and scrap the entire spread option offense package and with it any hope that Demetrius will be back under center. Give DJ the option to switch positions, or release him from his scholarship after the season so he can pursue a starting job elsewhere. Take the lumps with the true freshman, and let him earn his team's confidence on the field, like Brady Quinn had to.

If he does this, I'm willing to accept that we'll struggle as Clausen develops chemistry with a team he hasn't repped with. I'll forgive the losses to Penn State and Michigan (which at this point are practically a foregone conclusion - Michigan will have bounced back from their far more embarassing loss to Div. I-AA Appalachian State by the time we roll into town). But this team will have an identity, a direction, and a plan to get there.

Preseason is over, coach. Get your shit together.

A Team in Need of Direction

Armchair Quarterbacking

I'm not sure Coach Weis got the memo that this wasn't a preseason game. The use of quarterbacks in this game resembled the NFL preseason rather than a game that actually counts on your record. The entire first half felt like an experiment on the offensive side of the football, where Coach wanted to see how good the team could be without even threatening to pass.

Overall, I feel like this game showcased every weakness of Coach Weis. He's still a great coach, but he often outthinks himself. Today was a classic example. He has been running a pro style offense for his entire career, but decided to try to turn himself into Rich Rodriguez to accomodate his dual threat QB. He also gets a little impatient at times, and the cycle of QBs showcased that. In addition, his choice this offseason to lay off of the team somewhat resulted in a team that lacked discipline throughout. On and off the field.

In retrospect, this team is suffering badly from a lack of senior leadership. With only 6 true seniors on the roster (and 9 5th years), there is a lack of leaders to choose from.

Even the leaders we do have suffered from a lack of direction, something that can be hung directly on the head coach. Weis ran three different offenses today, with 3 different quarterbacks. Is it any wonder that the offense couldn't find any rhythm? And that confusion on offense resulted in far too many turnovers, which put the defense in bad situations and hung them out to dry for far too long. The lack of direction and indecision by Coach Weis extended even to the kick returners. After starting Allen and Tate, Tate was pulled in favor of West after only one return attempt.

I'm not sure how Coach Weis decided to start Demetrius at QB, as he clearly has NO faith in Demetrius' throwing ability, allowing opposing defenses to stack the box and choke up the running game. And Sharpley, as I predicted, was not the answer either. He displayed almost no athleticism, and couldn't get through his reads before the pressure got to him. Even when he did get the ball off, it was usually off the mark. Granted, Clausen was playing in garbage time against reserves, but he ran the offense with more precision than either DJ or Sharpley. He blazed through his reads, made a decision, and delivered the ball quickly and on target.

Eating Crow

And as long as I'm dishing out criticism, I might as well learn to take it.

Boy was I wrong about our offensive line. Sullivan did a horrible job of recognizing blitzes, and our inexperienced linemen got torched far too frequently. Their size never translated into push on the front line, and they couldn't open a hole to save their lives.

Also, I far underestimated Tashard Choice. I knew he was good, but I thought that we would be able to focus on shutting him down and see if the young QB could beat us with his arm. But Choice was able to run roughshod over and through our D-line and linebackers, even when we KNEW that he was coming. Tech didn't even bother with fakes and misdirections eventually - they'd just line Tashard up in the backfield, snap the ball to him directly, and watch him torch our defense.

Bright spots

The game, as disappointing as it was, did have some bright spots. Not many, but some.

The defense was placed in bad situations early and often, and was able to force field goals. It was only after they became tired and demoralized that they let the game get out of hand.

The receivers by and large looked very good, despite Weis' almost pathological aversion to using them. To put this in perspective, it wasn't until the 3rd quarter that our All-American tight end finally got a touch. In fact, our receivers were the most impressive position group today, which makes the choice of DJ as the starter even more perplexing. But I digress - I'm trying to focus on the positive...

Armando Allen showed flashes of brilliance. He didn't break one today, but he showed us enough that we know that he can and will. He has excellent speed and good moves. He just needs a little bit of experience to learn how to run through arm tackles and see the running lanes better.

Our coverage on special teams was outstanding all day long.

Clausen looks healthy and appears to be as good as advertised. Even if it was in mop up time.

Our secondary didn't give up the big play. There was one long pass that was perfectly defended, but the receiver made a great catch. Another that was a blown coverage but that we quickly corrected and kept it from going for 6.

I sat next to a really hot chick. OK, I'm reaching a little here, but this section was so depressingly short. And she was really hot.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Georgia Tech at Notre Dame Preview

Georgia Institute of Technology (aka Georgia Tech)
Yellowjackets (0-0)

Head Coach: Chan Gailey
Coaching Record: 61-38 overall, 37-27 at Georgia Tech, 5th season
Last Year: 9-5, ACC Coastal Champions, Lost to West Virginia in Toyota Gator Bowl


University of Notre Dame
Fightin' Irish (0-0)

Head Coach: Charlie Weis
Coaching Record: 19-6, 3rd season
Last Year: 10-3, Lost to Louisiana State in Allstate Sugar Bowl

Location: Notre Dame Stadium
Date and Time: September 1, 2007 3:43 p.m.
Series Record: Notre Dame leads 27-5-1 overall, 15-2 at Notre Dame Stadium

Notre Dame Quarterback and Receivers vs. Georgia Tech Secondary
Notre Dame's inexperienced quarterback and lack of superstars in the receiving corps means that the Irish will struggle to pass the ball at mid to long range. Tech's secondary is very good, one of the best that we will face this year.
Edge: Georgia Tech

Notre Dame Offensive Line vs. Georgia Tech Defensive Line
Notre Dame's retooled offensive line will be bigger and stronger than we've had in a long time. John Sullivan's experience and leadership will hold this unit together. The inexperience may lead to some early breakdowns and miscommunication, but Notre Dame's commitment to the running game will wear down the smaller Tech defensive line.
Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Running Backs and Tight Ends vs. Georgia Tech Linebackers
Notre Dame is loaded at running back, and will be rotating in talent to keep fresh legs in the game. The establishment of our running game will help relieve the pressure off of our passing game as well. In addition, John Carlson will be a big weapon against the smaller Tech linebackers. Our receivers will run a lot of short routes as well, wide receiver screens and slants, to keep the pressure on the Tech linebackers. Wheeler is one of the best linebackers we'll face this year, but he can't do it all by himself. Also, Wheeler will eventually be worn out from taking on Asaph Schwapp all game long.
Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Defensive Line vs. Georgia Tech Offensive Line
Tech's offensive line is very experienced, starting only one new player this year. Our defensive line is largely inexperienced and not deep enough to stay fresh against this veteran line. We will struggle getting pressure with our defensive line alone, so expect to see a lot of blitzing from Corwin Brown this game.

Notre Dame Linebackers vs. Georgia Tech Running Backs and Tight Ends
This matchup will be where this game is won or lost. Tashard Choice is an excellent and durable running back who will be the cornerstone of their game plan this year. The new Tech offensive coordinator found ways to feed the ball to Garrett Wolfe last year, and will do the same with Tashard Choice this year. Our linebackers are very talented, if inexperienced. Maurice Crum will have his hands full all game holding this unit together. Tech's tight ends don't scare me - their top tight end has been banged up all offseason, and thnone of them have much in the way of experience. Ultimately, I think that this matchup comes down to Mo Crum vs. Tashard Choice.
Edge: Draw

Notre Dame Secondary vs. Georgia Tech Quarterbacks and Receivers
The parallels between Georgia Tech and Notre Dame when it comes to the passing game are almost eery. Both teams are looking to replace a four year starter at quarterback, and an All-American at receiver. The players stepping in are largely unimpressive, although Taylor Bennett did look good in last year's Gator Bowl, giving him some valuable confidence and experience coming into the game. Because of all these parallels, I just don't expect much from the Tech passing game tomorrow.
Add to that the fact that this is the best and deepest secondary we've had since 1993, with experienced players throughout and an All-American safety in Tommy Z, and this matchup becomes a no-brainer.
Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Coaches vs. Georgia Tech Coaches
Coach Weis is coming into the season with back-to-back BCS appearances. We've replaced the underperforming Rick Minter at defensive coordinator with Corwin Brown, who is well regarded in coaching circles, but has never been a coordinator before. Notre Dame's strength and conditioning coach, Ruben Mendoza, may be the best in the country, and the assistants are experienced and intelligent. This staff resembles an NFL staff more than a college staff.
Georgia Tech should name John Tenuta their head coach, as he is the only staff member on Tech's coaching staff that is truly impressive. Head Coach Chan Gailey is good, having taken Tech to bowl games in all 5 of his seasons as head coach, but he is not a national championship caliber coach like Weis. He reminds me a lot of Joe Tiller - perfect for a mediocre football program. He'll get you to a bowl game every year, but that's about it. Their new offensive coordinator is an up and comer, but may be a flash in the pan that rode Garrett Wolfe's talent to the big leagues. Only time will tell.
Edge: Notre Dame

Quarterback and Receivers vs. Secondary: Edge Georgia Tech
Running Backs and Tight Ends vs. Linebackers: Edge Notre Dame
Offensive Line vs. Defensive Line: Edge Notre Dame
Defensive Line vs. Offensive Line: Edge Georgia Tech
Linebackers vs. Running Backs and Tight Ends: Draw
Secondary vs. Quarterbacks and Receivers: Edge Notre Dame
Coaches vs. Coaches: Edge Notre Dame

This game should be interesting, as the two teams lining up against each other on Saturday are going to have the same game plan. Both teams want to establish a running game to relieve the pressure on their young and inexperienced signal caller. Both have excellent secondaries, and one excellent linebacker. Both are looking for someone to step up and replace an All-American receiver. Heck, both teams even sport All-American punters, for crying out loud.
They aren't identical, though. Tech has a much better defensive line than the Irish and more experience throughout their team. Notre Dame has an All-American tight end as a weapon, and more team speed overall.
Ultimately, however, I expect this to be an old-fashioned grind it out football game, with both offenses being able to establish a running game. It will be close, and the difference in the game will probably come down to field position and coaching.
Field position will be interesting, as neither team has an advantage at punter or kick returner. The Irish do have a distinct advantage at punt returner - we have Tommy Z, and they are using a walk-on with a history of injury problems. A Tommy Z punt return could mean the difference between winning and losing.
I believe we have the distinct edge in gameday coaching, and the Coach Weis will place this team in a position to win the game late.

Both teams grind it out in a ball-control game, with the two All-American punters being showcased throughout a low-scoring affair. I think eventually the winner of the game will be the team that can make one or two explosive plays, or the team with the ball last. I wouldn't be surprised to see this game into overtime. Ultimately, the home field advantage and luck of the Irish will win over all.

Notre Dame 17
Georgia Tech 14

Thursday, August 30, 2007

2007 Position Preview: Defense

Rather than splitting this up into line, linebackers, and secondary, it's getting to be crunch time, and I still need to write my Georgia Tech preview. So I'm going to use one long blog posting to cover the whole defense. Bear with me.

Defensive Line
Much has been made in the past year or so about our lack of recruiting at the defensive line position. There is a perception that our D-line is small, not that talented, and won't be very effective.

Let me take a moment to lay those fears to rest.

If you recall from my offensive line posting, I calculated the average sizes of our opponent's D-lines.

Here is that list, in order of average weight, with Notre Dame added:

Penn State - 6'3" 290 lbs.
Michigan - 6'3" 284 lbs.
Boston College - 6'3" 282 lbs.
Southern Cal - 6'4" 282 lbs.
Notre Dame - 6’2” 281 lbs. <------
Stanford - 6'4" 274 lbs.
UCLA - 6'3" 273 lbs.
Purdue - 6'4" 272 lbs.
Duke - 6'5" 269 lbs.
Georgia Tech - 6'4" 268 lbs.
Michigan State - 6'4" 266 lbs.

As you see, we are above average in size for a starting D-line. And that's not counting the 300-pounder we have backing up Pat Kunz in Ian Williams, a freshman who can push for playing time immediately.

This defensive line is not as weak as some people perceive on the front lines. Where the problem comes in is the depth. We have 2 options - and only 2 options - at nose tackle right now, with Hand suspended. And our depth at the ends is only marginally better. This line must stay healthy, and everyone on the depth chart must contribute effectively this year. The D-line is the key to our success this year on defense, as even the best secondary is useless if the opponents can run on you all day long.


Trevor Laws, Senior Defensive End
The lone returning starter from last year, Laws has spent his career at defensive tackle, and this year is moving out to the end, rather than manning the nose tackle position. I was at first confused by this move, but as I've broken down this defense, I believe that this move was made in an attempt to give Laws the most opportunities to slow down opposng offenses. Inside, all he would do is take on blockers, penetrate, and try to stop the run. By moving to the defensive end, he now has responsiblity for the primary running lanes of opponents, and can use his leverage to disrupt as a pass rusher.

Pat Kuntz, Junior Nose Tackle
The reason I was confused about moving Laws outside is the lack of a prototypical nose tackle on our team this year. I had high hopes when Coach Weis moved the giant Chris Stewart down to try out the position, but he didn't pan out, likely redshirting this year as he moves back to the O-line.
Kuntz has shown some tenacity at this postion, however. He held off Hand for the starting spot (even before Hand got into trouble with the law). He's a tad undersized at only 285 lbs, but he has shown a penchant for splitting double teams. His lack of size means that we need someone to spell him fairly often.

Justin Brown, Senior Defensive End
Dwight Stephenson, Jr. Senior (RS) Defensive End
This battle is going to spill into the season, and may never be definitively decided. Justin Brown has been the most improved player in the offseason, and has gotten repeated praise from the coaching staff in the offseason.
Stephenson has been playing with a fire in his fifth and final season, after not playing for his first two years, and seeng very little action as an upperclassmen. He bounced back and forth between defensive end and defensive tackle. With the switch to the 3-4, he is suddenly perfect for the 3-4 end, and decided to come back and try again.
This fiery competition should be very good for the defense, as it will keep both players from getting complacent, and will allow for frequent substitutions, keeping both players fresh throughout the season.


Paddy Mullen, Sophomore Defensive End
Kallen Wade, Sophomore Defensive End
These sophomores seem to have been recruited for the 3-4 defense, which makes me wonder if Weis has been considering the coaching change far before he let on. They need some more time to learn the defense, and they will both be subbed in frequently behind Laws to give them some valuable experence and playing time.

Ian Williams, Freshman Nose Tackle
The biggest piece of last year's recruiting class, Williams' absence this year would have been a glaring hole in our depth, and would have spelled disaster for the D-line. My hope is that as he learns the defense, Williams will supplant Kuntz as the starter by season's end.

The linebackng corps is full of the kind of guys that have been waiting patiently for their turn to become the next star linebacker. Only John Ryan is a little young to develop as a linebacker in this scheme, but his natural ability (and having Crum right next to him) more than makes up for it.


John Ryan, Sophomore OLB
John Ryan has been a pleasant surprise. The prototypical 3-4 OLB, Ryan is a great pass rusher that often struggled in the 4-3 scheme with getting off of blocks. The move to the 3-4 scheme and outside linebacker paid huge dividends, as it permits him to rush the QB, taking on the back o a shfting guard instead of those pesky offensive tackles, which will have their hands full with Trevor Laws. He also has developed his awareness as a pass defender, which permitted him to lock down this position.

Maurice Crum, Jr., Senior (RS) ILB
The rock that this defense has been built around, Crum has developed from an outside linebacker that was forced inside by necessity due to Ty's recruiting failures, to an outstanding inside linebacker. He's bulked up in the weight room and embraced the inside linebacker position. He's also embraced his leadership role, and is the veteran quarterback of this defense. Crum, like Sully, will take responsibility for his linebacking corps, making sure that they know their assignments and taking responsibility for the breakdowns. Crum's presence balances the inexperience on the rest of the linebacking corps.

Joe Brockington, Senior ILB
Toryan Smith, Sophomore ILB
This is a battle that is just plain a dead heat. The two players play almost identical to each other right now, and neither has shown any signs of weakness. I expect this battle to rage well into the season, with the younger Smith eventually leveraging his higher natural athleticism to wrest the starting spot away for himself.

Anthony Vernaglia, Senior OLB
Vernaglia is another of those great stories from this year's senior class. He started as a safety recruit (and a former HS wide receiver), but moved to outside linebacker before his sophomore year. He got injured last year, and finally comes into the season healthy and motivated, ready to make his mark. He has top end speed for an outside linebacker, and is the perfect guy to have at the weakside linebacker.


Morrice Richardson, Sophomore OLB
Kerry Neal, Freshman OLB
Brian Smith Freshman OLB
Neal and Smith were specifcally recruited for the outside linebacker position, natural pass rushers with good speed for pass defense.

Scott Smith, Junior ILB
Smith is an unknown quantity. The coaches have named him the starter, but only his game experience will show whether he has earned it. While he has had time under Coach Weis, he has not had time under Coach Brown. He will sink or swim, but due to his experience, I believe he will swim. Call me an optimist, but (for the first time in a decade) I have faith in the coaching staff. Call me naive if you'd like, but I don't doubt his ability.

You want depth? We've got depth.
The Irish staff has effectively recruited the elite corners we were always lacking during the Ty years, stockpiling such talent that we are at LEAST 3 deep at every position in the secondary. And the dropoff from the top to bottom isn't that far. In fact, the starting corner for the last couple of years, Ambrose Wooden, got passed on the depth chart by young phenom Darrin Walls, possibly the most gifted young corner we've ever recruited.


Darrin Walls, Sophomore Cornerback
Last year, as a true freshman, Walls was thrown to the wolves in the opener against one of the best receivers ever to play in college, when he was substituted in on man-to-man coverage with Calvin Johnson. He may not have been a starter last year, but he is not spring chicken this year. During the offseason, Walls was lauded for becoming much more physical at the line of scrimmage, which allowed him to separate from Wooden and grab the starting spot from the experienced senior.

David Bruton, Junior Free Safety
The weakest link of the secondary on paper, Bruton logged only 85 minutes of playing time last year on special teams and as a reserve safety. Despite not being a highly touted prospect out of high school (rated 3 stars), he has stepped up his workouts in the offseason and held off the younger more athletic recruits pushing him for playing time. If he continues to work as hard through the school year as he has in the offseason, he'll be a solid defender, if not as flashy as his counterparts.

Tom Zbikowski, Senior (RS) Strong Safety
Tommy Z is one of four players on the Notre Dame roster that may be the best in the country at their position this year (the other 3: Carlson, TE; Sullivan, C; Price, P). He played overweight and in pain for much of last year, but is now in better shape even than he played 2 years ago. A preseason consensus All-American, Zibby plays with a mean streak and nastiness that should only be fueled even more by Corwin's schemes. I expect Zibby to have a breakout season this year, and if he can bring his punt returns back to the place they were 2 years ago, he could garner some attention for player of the year awards in the mold of Charles Woodson 20 years ago. It's a longshot, but Zibby is pissed off this year. And you won't like him when he's angry...

Terrail Lambert, Senior Cornerback
Lambert broke out in the Michigan State game last year, and has been steadily gaining confidence ever since. He started the final 10 games of the season.
Lambert is one of my favorite stories as a member of the mysteriously shrinking class of seniors. One of the jewels of the class (a 4 star recruit), he had to watch as his classmates repeatedly defected and left the team. Even the star of the class, Darius Walker, decided to leave early this past offseason. But Lambert kept plugging away, even as Coach Weis signed 5-star cornerback after 5-star cornerback behind him. He refused to let anyone pass him on the depth chart, and eventually earned his spot at the front of the line.
He plays with a nose for the ball, leading the team in interceptions last year. He needs to work on being more physical at the line of scrimmage and on not going into the tank after a mistake.


Ambrose Wooden, Senior CB
Raeshon McNeil, Sophomore CB
Leo Ferrine, Senior CB
Munir Prince, Sophomore CB
Wooden will likely be our nickel back this year, as he actually has the most experience at the cornerback position. Wooden is a very good corner that is the poster boy for Weis' recruiting upgrades to this team. Although he was a very good 4-star recruit, he lacked that last level of speed that elite corners have. And Wooden did nothing wrong this offseason - he has simply reached the limits of his ability. But if Wooden is our nickel back, that means we have one of the deepest and most talented secondaries in the nation. To put this in perspective, Wooden was ranked the 18th best corner in the nation this preseason. And he's playing nickel.
Raeshon McNeil will probably be our dime, and Leo Ferrine will be the top backup. We may see some of Munir Prince, but probably not in crucial situations at first, as he's still transitioning from running back.

Kyle McCarthy, Junior FS
Jashaad Gaines, Sophomore FS
Harrison Smith, Freshman FS
Ray Herring, Junior SS
Sergio Brown, Sophomore SS
Leonard Gordon, Sophomore SS
This group of safeties is pretty good, but nobody in this group has shown that spark that you want from a safety; that hard-hitting, balls to the wall style of play. McCarthy's speed is his best attribute, but he needs to work on his hitting. Harrison Smith has the most potential, but he's a true freshman, and needs to adjust to the game. Sergio Brown can hit, but needs to work on his mental game. The rest are pretty good, and need to pay attention to Zibby this season to learn some atttude.

Overall Defense
The defense this year is going to be whatever Coach Brown makes of it. If he is as good as his pedigree, he will elevate this defense to the next level. If he is not, he will fall on his face. Whatever happens, this year's defense will, much like Coach Weis said in his first press conference, reflect the attitude of the coach. If we have a new attitude, the defense will play with fire and conviction. If not, we will be flat and uninspired. Either way, this year's team will rise or fall with Coach Brown. I believe that we will elevate our game, but only time will tell.

Facebook + unfounded speculation + Observer article + opponent blogging = DD as the starter

EDIT: MSNBC weighs in on the quarterback controversy, adding an additional nugget of uncertainty to the whole report of Demetrius starting (see bolded text below)

According to two internet reports, Notre Dame's starting quarterback on Saturday against Georgia Tech will be ... Demetrius Jones.
The 6-4, 213-pound sophomore is know more for his running ability than his passing.
If the reports are correct, he would have beaten out heralded freshman Jimmy Clausen and junior Evan Sharpley for the position.'s John Walters weighs in that Clausen received most of the snaps during practice the other day in front of the students.
So, is it Jones? Only time will tell and everyone will know for sure when the Irish take the field to face the Yellow Jackets Saturday at 3:30 on NBC.

This report would tend to refute the claim by Jones' coach that DD was receiving the bulk of the snaps this week. If Clausen has been receiving the bulk of the snaps, he'll be the starter. Now I'm waiting for Evan Sharpley's 3rd grade teacher to weigh in with a rumor that he'll be the starter.

EDIT: Demetrius' high school coach is telling reporters that Demetrius got the bulk of the snaps in practice this week, which (if true) confirms that Demetrius is indeed the starter on Saturday. Coach Weis said in a press conference earlier this week that the starter was receiving the bulk of the snaps in practice for the past week and a half.

So the buzz this morning is that the blogosphere has outed Demetrius Jones as the starter, for what that's worth.

The "sources" of this information are Demetrius' Facebook page, wherein random friends congratulate him on being named the starter, and the Robot Charlie blog, which posted briefly that they knew who the starter was before taking it down 5 minutes later. This was picked up by the Ramblin' Wreck blog, and the AOL Sports blog shortly thereafter.

But this morning, the unfounded rumor from the blogosphere was given some legs when the Chicago Trbune reported that the blogs had reported that DD was the starter.

Normally I would dismiss this as wild speculation, but the Observer article from earlier this week nearly outright stated that half of the student population knows who the starter is, but that the newspaper was prohibited from reporting on it.

If that many people know who the starter is from Sunday's open practice, and the blogosphere (and even random online quizzes) are coalescing around Demetrius as the starter, I'm willing to believe it.

Clausen's "minor" procedure just before summer camp didn't heal itself overnight, and my wild and completely unfounded internet speculation is that he just isn't ready to make all the throws. Demetrius can't make ALL the throws, but he has something that Clausen doesn't - blazing speed. And I've said before that I thought Sharpley was a longshot to win this race.

So, take this for what it's worth, but it looks like Demetrius will be the starter, at least to start the year. What this means for us is covered pretty well over on OC Domer's blog. This may not bode well for our shot at gettng to 10 wins and making Mark May dress like a leprechaun, but it does mean that the entire season is going to be exciting and dramatic. There will be some exciting plays made by DD with his legs, but his throwing ability relative to Clausen means that every interception thrown will be immediately followed by a shot of Clausen waiting in the wings.

Only 2 days, 3 hours, 30 minutes left.

EDIT: The earliest and most reliable source I could find for the source of Demetrius Jones' nickname is an article from early in the recruiting cycle for him. Check it out here. Another version of his nickname is given on Wikipedia. Everyone agrees that he is also called D-Train.

2007 Position Preview - The Book on Coach Brown

Leaving offense behind us, now we move into the area of our team that is truly a "riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma" - the defense.

Normally I'd launch directly into an analysis of the players, but with the addition of Corwin Brown, I thought I'd spend a posting entirely on him and his new 3-4 scheme that the Irish are implementing this year.

If you want to read a well-written and well-researched piece on Brown's upbringing on the south side of Chicago, check out ths article in the South Bend Tribune. He is truly an amazing person who has overcome so much and (despite his Michigan roots) become a good person and a great role model.

However, I'd like to focus more on the X's and O's background of Coach Brown. He started as a defensive back for the hated Michigan Wolverines, and then went on to a successful pro career mostly on Parcells/Belichek/Weis teams with New England, the New York Jets, and the Detroit Lions.

His first coaching position was as defensive backs coach under Al Groh at Virginia from 2001-2003, where he helped the team win back-to-back Continental Tire Bowl games. Brown's impact was felt relatively quickly, as he took the nation's 93rd best pass defense, and improved there effectiveness immediately, raising their ranking first to 70th, then 59th, before slipping back slightly to 63rd. His impact on the Cavaliers in coaching and recruiting continued to be felt the year after he left, when the Cavs jumped to 27th in the nation in pass defense.

When he started with the Jets in 2003, they already had what appeared to be on paper a solid pass defense, which ranked 11th in passing yards allowed, and in the top 10 in most other categories. However, a closer look revealed that there were too few interceptions and too many yards per attempt - nobody really passed on the Jets because they didn't have to - they could run the ball at will.

Corwin's work with the Jets secondary saw a sharp improvement in yards per attempt and interceptions his first year, ranking in the top 20 in both categories. And this was despite a better run defense - teams couldn't pass against Brown's secondary, even though they wanted to. That year, the Jets defense finished 7th in total defense in the NFL.

The following year, the Jet's run defense fell off again, but Brown's secondary remained effective, improving at interceptions and yards per attempt, forcing opposing offenses to go back to running the ball against the Jets. The Jet's pass defense finished 2nd in the NFL. Under Brown, Ty Law was voted to the Pro Bowl.

In his last year with the Jets, Brown was toiling in the turmoil of a new head coach, and the secondary's production fell of in terms of interception and yards (still in the top half of the NFL, though). Despite this, Brown's schemes still resulted in the 6th best yards per attempt in the NFL, and also in Justin Miller being voted to the Pro Bowl in just his second year in the league - a player entirely developed by Corwin.

After crunching all of the numbers, the one consistent thing I've seen from Coach Brown is steady improvement over time, in particular when it comes to containing opposing offenses. His yards per attempt stats are the best at showing this - he took a team near the bottom of the NFL in YPA, and made them a perennial top 10 team. This means that his defense limited the big play. Also, his defenses became more opportunistic as far as interceptions were concerned.

By contrast, Notre Dame ranked 100th in the nation in yards per attempt last year, and in the bottom half of the league in both interceptions and interception %.

Corwin Brown's 3-4 scheme is a far simpler scheme than what Minter ran last year, but can also bring pressure from multiple places within the same formation. Lots of zone blitzing, where a D-lineman or down linebacker might show blitz and then drop nto coverage, is a key to this defense. Defensive ends and outside linebackers are practically interchangeable as pass rushers and pass defenders. The only player almost guaranteed not to drop into coverage is the nose tackle. Everyone else is fair game.

The secondary plays more zone and less man from what I understand, taking away the long passes and using disguised coverages to confuse the quarterback, creating more interception opportunities. The better the players get at playing their zones, the fewer long plays will be given up. This scheme to a certain extent, when played to perfection, neutralizes differentials in speed and talent between the receivers and secondary.

This defense is frustrating from the opposing offense's perspective, as they have to be patient all game to move the ball. For those of you that like basketball, consider that this defense kind of forces the opposing offense into a Princeton-style offense, chipping away and chipping away and waiting for an opening to develop. In the college game, this will mean teams trying to force the action more, creating opportunities for the defense to get game changing turnovers.

Where I actually see this scheme struggling this year is against teams like Navy, where they could care less about pressure and dsguised coverages. However, I expect us to outathlete them like we do every year.

The other team I see being successful against this defense is Michigan. Carr can run his usual ball control, slow playing offense, and have success. However, if Michigan tries to open it up against us like they did last year, they may open the door for us to be in a game late that we have no business winning this year otherwise.

The Night Before Football

Twas the night before football, and I could not sleep,
Poring over statistics, breaking down the 2-deep;

The preseason mags were all stacked by the chair,
In hopes that the kickoff soon would be there;

The gameday attire washed and ready to wear,
I've purchased the facepaint and color for my hair.

No thought about sleeping, there's too much to do;
Have to pack up the tailgate and scout Georgia Tech U.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the couch to see what was the matter.

I ran to the garage to open the door,
And cursed that I hadn't yet painted the door.

The slow-moving garage door squeaked and it creaked,
And the street lamps provided the light 'cross the street.

When, what to my wondering eyes should offend,
But a brand new flagpole, battered rope attached to the end.

With a giant blue flag, with a giant yellow letter,
I knew in a moment the sign of a skunkbear.

The lawn gnomes and trashed cars should have tipped me much sooner,
That the rusty Winnebago owner loved a perrenial loser.

He stood 'cross the street, admiring his handiwork,
Wearing that peculiarly Michigan ignorant smirk.

His droll little mouth was yellowed and dingy,
and the stubble on his chin was crusted and mangy.

The stump of a Basic was held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke encircled his head like a wreath.

He had a broad pimply face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, and his flab had sagged south,
And when I first saw him I threw up a little in my mouth.

He whistled and shouted, like a dim-witted drunk,
and I swore I smelled the stench of - um - was that skunk?

"We'll be the champs of the West and to get to that position,
We'll beat I-AA Appalachian State and Eastern Michigan.

We'll discount our losses to the Bucks and the Irish
and some other third team as due to referee bias."

As most ignorant tools with no knowledge of hist'ry,
he went on at length about Bo, getting quite blust'ry.

Also attendance and the Big Ten and other trivialities,
Never really bothering with things like facts and realities.

And I said when he finally quieted and turned to embark,
"Take down the flag, or see if my bite's like my bark;

That so-called university is an insult to football.
If you leave it on my street, then me and you are gonna brawl.

Your last full championship was Nineteen and Forty Eight,
And you can't win the Rose Bowl, beat the Irish or even Penn State.

You don't graduate players, Harbaugh admits you're a joke,
Your Division I-A status ought to be revoked."

The Michigan fan, as usual afraid of the Irish,
Sheepishly took down his flag and stormed off acting quite childish.

Never ones to lose gracefully or admit their own defeat,
He muttered about the flag somehow clashing with concrete.

I turned back to my house, giving the fight song a whistle,
Able to return to that crap being broadcast from Bristol.

And from somewhere I heard on this warm summer's night:
"Happy football to all, and to all a good night!"

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

2007 Position Preview - The Trenches

Now that we've gotten through all of the glamour positions in football - QB, RB, WR, TE - we get down to the nitty gritty. The positions of players that don't get the glory and fame, just the quiet satisfaction that they are the foundation upon which the success of the rest of the team rests.

Most of the press this offseason, and the resultant negativity about Notre Dame's success, hinges on the losses of players from these glory positions - Brady, Darius, the Shark, and Rhema. And yes, we have some inexperience at those positions. But, we have talent at those positions.

Where we've upgraded in the offseason is at the other positions - those positions where statistics and accolades don't tell the whole story. We'll finish out the offense with the O-line here before movng on to the revamped defense late tonight or early tomorrow.

Starting Five

LT - Paul Duncan, Junior - 6'7" 308 lbs.
Duncan backed up Sam Young last year, logging 85 minutes of playing time, and played in 5 games the season before, logging another 24 minutes of playing time.
Although he hadn't previously started, he has really shown up this offense, especially in the spring, where he gave the Irish coaches enough confidence in him to put him at left tackle and leave phenom Sam Young over at right tackle where he played all last year.
I believe this move belies Weis' plan to run the ball more this year, by putting more experience and talent on the strong side of the line, rather than protecting his young quarterback's blind side.

LG - Mike Turkovich, Junior - 6'6" 301 lbs.
Turkovich battled through a neck injury last year, logging only 23 minutes of playing time as a reserve, the same kind of minutes he got as a true freshman. Probably the weakest link of the starting linemen, he still is very very good, and has plenty of size. However, I don't expect this to translate into a weakness for the line. If he doesn't perform on gameday, there is lots of depth here willing to take his spot - Olsen, in particular, is breathing down his neck.

C - John Sullivan, Senior (RS) - 6'4" 303 lbs.
The anchor of this line, the fifth year center nicknamed "Sully" is one of, if not the best, center in the country; certainly a candidate for All-American honors and the Rimington Award (nation's top center).
Sully has started 33 of the past 37 games at center, and in my opinion is the very best in the country at what he does. He will QB the offensive line, and like any good leader responsibility for mistakes will hit him first, before it lands on his fellow linemen. His return for a fifth year, much like John Carlson, is one of the biggest reasons why I have confidence in the Irish football team this year. Young is still too young (no pun intended) to step up into the veteran role, and without Sully, we wouldn't have enough experence to bring cohesion to this line.
Sullivan may be the most valuable player on the team this year, although he won't ever get credit for it.

RG - Dan Wenger, Sophomore - 6'4" 287 lbs.
Wenger is one of those players that you see each year that comes out of nowhere and elevates his game in the offseason. Last year he was hampered by injury and never got to show what he could do, and now that he's healthy he has impressed the coaching staff. Wenger is actually a natural center, and will move back inside once Sullivan moves on next year, which will bode well for next year's team, as he will have a full season to learn about the center position and running an offensive line from the country's best.

RT - Sam Young, Sophomore - 6'8" 310 lbs.
This beast of a man was First-team Freshman All-American last year, and the first ever Notre Dame freshman lineman to start the season opener of his freshman year. He is one of those phenoms that just takes to his position like a duck to water. He is an anchor at his position, and in just his sophomore year he may be able to play his way into some post-season award consideration this year (I'm thinking All-American Honorable Mention) as a true sophomore.


6'6" 302 lbs.

That's the average size of our offensive line. Coach Weis' recruiting acumen, and Coach Mendoza's weight training program, have combined to build an offensive line that deserves the old nickname "the big uglies."

By comparison, the D-lines (leaving out the academies, with all their restrictions) we'll face have the following average sizes:
Georgia Tech - 6'4" 268 lbs.
Penn State - 6'3" 290 lbs.
Michigan - 6'3" 284 lbs.
Michigan State - 6'4" 266 lbs.
Purdue - 6'4" 272 lbs.
UCLA - 6'3" 273 lbs.
Boston College - 6'3" 282 lbs.
Southern Cal - 6'4" 282 lbs.
Duke - 6'5" 269 lbs.
Stanford - 6'4" 274 lbs.
AVERAGE: 6'4" 276 lbs.

Even removing the academies, with their restrictions, our O-line has a significant advantage in sheer size, to the tune of 2 inches and 28 pounds. Of course, O-lines are generally bigger that D-lines, but this year's line has some big Hosses on it.

By way of comparing apples to apples, Michigan's vaunted All-American O-line:
6'5" 308 lbs

We're in pretty good company this year for size on the O-line, and full of highly touted talent. Sullivan's experience anchoring the middle of the line will be the difference maker for the new starters, as well as a relief for the young quarterback and running backs as far as blitz pickup and run blocking is concerned.

This year's offensive line, in my opinion, will be the best of the Weis era thus far, and will pick up the slack for the inexperience behind them. Last year's line, despite their experence, lacked the raw talent and size of this year's line. As a result, our offensive production will probably be smilar to last year's, although Coach Weis may choose to trade quick strike capability passing for ball control running this year.

2007 Position Preview - Receivers and Tight Ends

Although I haven't been posting a lot lately, I haven't stopped talking about Notre Dame football in the interim. All offseason I've been telling whoever would listen not to count out D.J. Hord at receiver, where all of the "buzz" had been about freshman Duval Kamara. With the depth chart out, D.J is right back in the mix, and Kamara is buried down the list a bit.

However, Kamara's position that far down the list is a testament to the depth and talent Coach Weis and Co. have been stockpiling at receiver. Almost any team outside the top 10-15 would trade their top 4 receivers for Kamara, Gallup, Tate, and Jackson - this year's also-rans on the ND depth chart.

Now that rational minds have prevailed, here's a look at Notre Dame's 2007 receving squad.

Wide Receivers
This year's recevers are the greenest set of recevers I can recall going back, well. forever. Three receivers have at least one catch in a game - Grimes has 28, West has 2, and Parris has 1. That's a grand total of 31 catches in a game for the entire team. The only other experience is the 7 kickoff returns that D.J. Hord had in 2005.

Also, this year's receiving corps does not have the big, imposing receivers we've become used to over the past couple of years. We won't be seeing a lot of jump ball fade routes into the corner of the endzone. However, the smaller stature receivers are often faster, and we will see more wide receiver screens, quick slants and outs, and other routes that get the receivers the ball underneath with room to make a move after the catch.

Listening to Coach Weis during the offseason, however, I'm not as concerned about this receiving corps as I ought to be. Weis' vast experience as an offensive coordinator has had him work with big athletic receivers like KeyShawn Johnson in the NFL, as well as with groups of smaller receivers like Deion Branch, David Patten, and David Givens. In fact, his Super Bowls were won with smaller receivers. And his general optimism about the athleticism and depth of this group is encouraging.

Because of all of the different formations, these are what appear to be the top four receivers on the team, the receivers that would fill out a five-wide set (assuming that Carlson or Allen or some other non-receiver takes the 5th slot). Anyone else on the depth chart will likely only get spot action and mop-up time.

#1 Z receiver - David Grimes, Junior
The leading returning receiver from last year, Grimes was dependable, if not exciting. Played as a kick returner as well, but showed no real explosiveness.
However, despite his lackluster performance last year as the 3rd receiver, he has experience, speed, good hands, and is a great route runner. As the #1 option, he won't be in the mx for national awards or anything this year, but he will be a very efficient receiver. Carlson will be the guy with all of the hype and attention, but Grimes will quietly rack up decent numbers during the season - something lke 900 yards receiving with 7-10 touchdowns.

#1 X receiver - George West, Sophomore
With 2 catches last year, there is hardly enough game experience to consider West "experienced." However, he does have a touchdown, and has shown us flashes of shiftiness and speed that can make him very dangerous. The mere fact that he held off D.J. Hord and Robby Parris for this slot through all of the competition leads me to believe that he will be productive. Because he's flashy, he could get more attention than Grimes this season, while not putting up the same kind of raw numbers.

#2 X receiver - Robby Parris, Sophomore
At 6'4", Parris' height helped him out this offseason, as he is the only receiver on this list who can go up and get the fade route jump balls we have seen so much from Brady and the Shark.
Because of the limited practices and almost nonexistent game experience (1 catch) I haven't really gotten a feel for his athletic ablity. However, his position as, basically, the #3 receiver has me excited. From what I have seen, the drop-off from Grimes (a known quantity) to a healthy and productive D.J. Hord isn't that big. So for Parris to work his way into this rotation is very positive.

#2 Z receiver - D.J. Hord, Junior (RS)
D.J. Hord hasn't had a significant snap in far too long, having sat out last season with an injury to his achilles. When he went down, Grimes and Hord were basically 3A and 3B on the depth chart. There is going to be a natural dropoff with the lack of experience between Hord and Grimes, but on raw ability, there isn't much of a difference. During the spring, Hord still didn't trust his achilles, and wasn't moving up the depth chart.
Once the hitting started this fall, however, Hord learned that he can take a hit and not reinjure his heel. Thus, during the brief training camp he's been moving up the depth chart.
I expect his improvement to continue as the season progresses, and we may see him challenging for the #2 receiver spot by mid-season. He's a talented receiver that has been flying under the radar since his injury, and this is his season to prove himself as the threat that he can be.


Barry Gallup, Jr., Sophomore
Gallup is listed on the depth chart as the #3 Z receiver, and will probably get some spotty action in games this year, but the former Massachussets high school player of the year hasn't yet gotten separation from the rest of the small, speedy receivers.

Duval Kamara, Freshman
All of the hype about Kamara walking into Notre Dame and being an immediate answer in a depleted receiving corps was just that - hype and bluster. Kamara is clearly a talented receiver, but it takes time to learn the playbook and develop the fundamental techniques that make a starting receiver in what is basically an NFL offense.

Golden Tate, Freshman
Speedy and shifty, Tate's presence will be felt first from his role as a starting kick returner. A running back in high school, Tate has pure running ability to go with his speed that the other receivers simply don't have.
What he lacks (and what is keeping him down on the depth chart), is hands. He needs to spend some time with the JUGS machine to develop his catching skills.
Once he learns to catch the ball, Golden will be a superstar for the Irish.
If he doesn't learn to catch the ball, his natural athleticism will get him onto the field as a starter somewhere, and sooner rather than later.

Richard Jackson, Sophomore
Since I already boasted about predicting D.J. Hord's rise up the depth chart, I should take my lumps on Richard Jackson. As early as last spring, I was predicting that Richard Jackson would be ND's next great receiver.
In my defense, he stll may be. He's been spotted in practice with a soft cast on his arm, so an injury is hampering his progress (Coach Weis denied rumors that Jackson was done for the season). Apparently, he's been struggling catching passes (it's unknown whether this is related to his injury). He has the size and athletic ability to be a great receiver, but thus far hasn't panned out.
Jackson was not listed on the depth chart at receiver that was released this week.

Walk-Ons: Brandon Erickson, Jake Richardville, Nick Possley, Kris Patterson, Sam Vos

Tight Ends

Many times on this board I have commented how insane our tight end recruiting has been under Coach Weis. With all of the inexperience at wide receiver, I'm not too worried about our passing game. Heck, if the receivers don't pan out, we can just concoct a four tight end set that will get the job done. Our depth chart at tight end is like USC's running back depth chart - any of the players from top to bottom would START at almost EVERY other university in the country.

John Carlson, Senior (RS)
Carlson is, quite simply, the best tight end in the country. And by the end of the season, I'm certain that the voting for the Mackey Award won't be close (he's the lone returning Mackey Award finalist). He can catch better than most receivers, and block better than most offensive tackles. He has no fear, as he is usually the biggest, strongest, baddest motherf#@ker on the field. I can't find any flaws in his game, with the lone exception that he lacks truly elite speed. That said, I'm not sure that truly elite speed is physically possible when you are 6'6" tall and weigh almost 260 lbs. He is so good, in fact, that he was named to the Maxwell award (for most outstanding player of the year) watch list this year as a tight end. Hell, if I had a Heisman vote I'd probably spend it on him.
More importantly, Carlson has developed into the leader of this team on offense, and will provide an anchor for the yound receivers to rally around, as well as a dependable relief valve for the inexperienced QB. Without Carlson, even I would be writing off this season for the Irish - the intangibles he brings into the huddle are as important as his athletic ability.


Wll Yeatman, Sophomore
An All-American caliber lacrosse player, Yeatman is a freak athlete who appeared only as a blocking tight end last year, loggng about 30 minutes of playing time. However, expect him to have some balls thrown his way this year as well - his position above Reuland on the dpeth chart was a bit of surprise, as Reuland was more highly touted out of high school. This shakeup shows that ratings aren't everything - you have to show up in practice ready to play.

Konrad Reuland, Sophomore
The consensus #1 tight end in the country coming out of high school, Reuland is another freak athlete, who excelled in basketball as well as football. He has all of the physical tools that Carlson sports this year - size, speed, hands, strength. What I haven't yet seen from him is the drive - that internal motor that motivates players during practice. It's easy to get up for game day, I want to see him practicing with more intensity to develop his limitless potential.

Mike Ragone, Freshman
The word on Ragone that I keep hearing out of practice is that he runs like a receiver inside the body of a tight end. This kid, like most great tight ends, is another freak athlete. He was rated as the top heavyweight wrestler in the east coming out of high school. Heck, even taking his senior season off due to injury, he was rated as a top 3 tight end in the country by every major recruiting service. Before his injury, he was a consensus #1.
Ragone has more speed than hs counterparts, but has a way to go on his blocking skills. There is no rush to get him into the starting rotation right now - let him focus on learning the position and getting ready to compete next year.

2007 Position Preview - Running Backs

The running back position at Notre Dame has, in two short years, gone from basically a one-man band to as deep a stable of talented running backs as anywhere else in the country (excepting of course USC, where they have recruited running backs like we've recruited tight ends). Thomas is going to be the workhorse that makes this engine run, but he won't have to work himself to death, as we have three talented backs stuck in a logjam right behind him, each with a distinctive running style that will make it difficult for opposing coaches to gameplan us.
Unlike the last couple of years, we will have a power inside running game this year, so much so that we may actually become a run-first offense.


Running Back (Halfback)

Travis Thomas, Senior
Balance. Travis Thomas is one of those players that is just gifted with lots of natural athletic ability. He is also smart and disciplined. As a result, he's the only player I can recall that was able to pull of such a drastic position switch as the transition from starting running back to starting linebacker. And then back again. All while serving as special teams captain.
Thomas' rocky start as a running back three years ago has been long forgotten, and he provides a much more balanced running style than we got from Darius Walker. Darius was spectacular at outside zone running (i.e. stretch plays) and catching balls out of the backfield. However, Darius never was able to become proficient at the inside zone running - too much hesitation. This narrowed our play selection considerably last year.
Thomas, on the other hand, is a classic all-purpose back, the Swiss Army knife of the backfield. He may not be as good as Darius at the outside zone, but he is as good at inside zone runs as he is at outside. He may not have the soft hands of Darius, but he is a good receiver out of the backfield. He is excellent at reading defenses and picking up blitzes as well. And he opens up the playbook.
Although Thomas may not be the next great running back in history, he is the perfect backbone of this unit, being the workhorse that can do it all.


Asaph Schwapp, Junior
The one word that comes to my mind with Asaph is power. This kid is a like a pile of bricks when he hits you. He's not a great runner, but as a lead blocker he is second to none. He abuses linebackers all day long. His skills were underutilized with Darius, but now that we can line up our running backs and pound the ball inside, Schwapp's value as a lead blocker increases.
The best compliment I've heard Coach Wes ever give a player was to Schwapp, when he pointed out that the players opposite Schwapp during practices hate being hit by him. During practice.


Running Back (Halfback)
These three backups are listed together on the depth chart after TT, and each player will see considerable carries this year, taking advantage of each player's individual strengths while keeping Thomas fresh.

James Aldridge, Sophomore
Power. Aldridge, to me, seems to be a bit of a throwback player - he reminds me most of Emmitt Smith and Thurman Thomas. A power back with enough moves and speed to hurt you if you don't put enough guys in the box to stop him before he gets a head of steam going. He's not pure power, though (for that, see Robert Hughes below). He's got great hip and foot movement and can make you miss as well. For my money, Aldridge is the prototypical running back for a traditional balanced offense.

Armando Allen, Freshman
Speed. Allen is the closest Notre Dame has ever had to a Reggie Bush like player at running back. This kid is so fast, he's one of our starting kick returners. He's got good hands, and will be a scat-back type of player in the mold of the aforementioned Bush and Marshall Faulk. Because Weis, given the choice, would not run the traditional balanced offense that would utilize Aldrdge so well, Allen is the star of the future in Weis' pass-heavy offense. Can line up and get you those inside yards, but also split out and burn his defender on passing plays, his speed creating coverage mismatches.

Junior Jabbie, Senior
Dependable. Jabbie came to the Irish as a defensive back out of prep school, so he's got some speed. However, his position switch from DB to running back wasn't completely unexpected. Fredo, for example, recruited Jabbie as a running back.
Junior hasn't done much of yet with his football career, spending most of his time toiling away in special teams. However, this year he finally got focused and hit the gym pretty hard, putting on some muscle to go with his speed. Now he's got speed and power, which allow him to make up for the fact that he doesn't have that natural running ability of players like Armando Allen and Golden Tate. However, the upside to the lack of "moves" is a straightforward running style that gains a lot of yards very quickly when there is a hole. His increased power allows him to shed some tacklers, which makes him a very dependable "3 yards and a cloud of dust" runner with the speed to take it to the house if he gets into the secondary. He needs to work a little on his vision.


Luke Schmidt, Sophomore
It's a little difficult to talk too much about Luke Schmidt, as he has toiled away in Schwapp's shadow for most of his career thus far. Combine that with the lack of open practices this year, and it's difficult to get a read on exactly what kind of player Luke is.
However, from what I have been able to dig up, Schmidt is the yin to Schwapp's yang, so to speak. Where Schwapp is a blocker first who struggles with running the ball, Schmidt is a run-first type of fullback, who struggles sometimes with his blocking ability. Schmidt was in many ways Robert Hughes last year, the halfback with the size to play fullback. His full time position switch to fullback only has allowed him to bulk up, and he needs to get lots of reps this year as a blocking back.
If he can develop his blocking game, he could be a great weapon to have in the backfield, able to pound out yards in those short yardage situations where we have come to rely on the QB sneak. Also, his running ability opens up an element of surprise in the running game, gving us the ability to use our fullback in much the same way that Navy does in their option offense, adding another thing for the defense to worry about before the snap.


Robert Hughes, Freshman
Although Coach Weis could have left the depth chart alone after plugging in four backs as above, he chose to put Robert Hughes on the depth chart as well - at halfback. I'm guessing the reason for this is the unique set of tools Hughes brings to the table. Weis has talked all year long about position flexibility among the linemen and defensive positions. With Hughes, he has a player that can line up at either halfback or fullback. This flexiblity can give Coach Weis some interesting options - he can bring in Hughes and Allen in a traditional Power I formation, then shift them into a 4-wide, single back set with the same personnel and not lose any options as far as playcalling is concerned. Think of Hughes as the next Jerome Bettis.

Walk-ons: Dex Cure, FB; Nikolas Rodriguez, HB; Mike Narvaez, FB

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Depth Chart

I'm still trudging through my last minute position previews and Georgia Tech preview postings, but I thought I'd take a couple of minutes to discuss the release of the official depth chart.

A couple things worth noting:

(1) Darin Walls beat out returning starter Ambrose Wooden for the left cornerback slot. This bodes very well for our secondary, as it means that Walls has improved enough to beat out Wooden, a solid cover corner with tons of experience (despite the bad rap he often gets from fans). Walls is the real deal at corner, and has some experience of his own at nickel and dime from last year. The younger, higher rated athletes are starting to win some of these positional battles. This team has more raw athletic talent than any Irish team of the past decade.

(2) Duval Kumara, despite the hype many online pundits placed on him, is in fact a freshman receiver, and won't be seeing as much playing time as other people thought - he's buried at the bottom of the depth chart. In fact, all of the freshman are buried at the bottom of the depth chart on offense and defense (except Clausen, 'cause nobody knows what's going on with the QB's outside the locker room). But, they are ON the depth chart, a testament to the athletcsm they bring to the table. Freshman most likely to see considerable playing time: Ian Williams (DT), Matt Romine and Taylor Dever (OT), Armando Allen (RB), Kerry Neal and Brian Smith (OLB)

(3) At kick returner, we have two true freshman starting - Golden Tate and Armando Allen. We may be holding our breath every time we receive a kickoff, praying for no freshman mistakes, but this is the clearest example of how Coach Weis' recruiting is paying off in increased athletic ability. Kick returners, more than any other position, must have speed first and foremost - that two freshman are providing that speed bodes very well for the future of the program.

(4) We STILL don't have a kicker or kickoff specialist. Also, wth the rule change, not only will we have to hold our breath during field goals, but we'll have to hold it during kickoffs, as they will rarely make it to the endzone. I'm not sure how to remedy this problem - maybe we should go after the country's best kicking coach or something this offseason.

[As a side note, my r and i keys are slightly malfunctioning, so please forgive me if I make some typographical and spelling errors as a result]