More extensive previews coming as the season approaches, and this preview is a way to get a first look at the team, and also be corrected on anything I might have wrong. Highlighted players in the charts below are returning for 2009. Notre Dame’s website is poorly designed, plus they’re too good to “redshirt” they “grant 5th-year eligibility” which is the exact same thing under a more pretentious name.
Notre Dame Offense
It’s unclear whether Evan Sharpley will return for his redshirt senior year, since he’s bigger into the baseball than football, in my recollection. Fear not though, incoming freshman Dayne Crist is expected to be the new 5-year Heisman winner for the Irish, and he might end up being the backup over Sharpley.
|Notre Dame QBs Passing 2008|
|Notre Dame QBs Rushing 2008|
Clausen took a big leap forward last year (partially a product of a functional-ish offense), and if he continues that, he might finally live up to about a third of the hype he got coming out of high school. If he gets hurt, however, it’ll be either a true freshman (Crist) or a guy who has never participated in spring practice because he’s busy playing baseball (Sharpley) backing his up.
Like many positions on this team, the Irish return everyone of note at the running back position. Expect Gray to get a little more action this year, as he’ll no longer be a true freshman. Allen and Hughes will likely still carry the load, however.
|Notre Dame RBs Rushing 2008|
|Asaph Schwapp (FB)||1||2||0||2.00|
|Notore Dame RBs Receiving 2008|
This is a definite position of strength for the Irish – at least as much as it can be, since they’ve run the ball pretty inconsistently ever since Weis has been around, and much more so in the past couple years. How much of that is offensive line play, and how much should be on the backs? We’ll see.
Golden Tate was a star-in-the-making last year, and he’ll certainly start all of 2009. His best fit might be at the slot in 3-wide (or 4-wide) sets, giving other players a chance to step up on the outside as well. Floyd is a big reeiver in the Braylon mold, and Rudolph will try to bring some playmaking back to the tight end position, which the Irish haven’t had consistently since Anthony Fasano left.
|Notre Dame Receivers 2008|
|Kyle Rudolph (TE)||29||340||2||11.72|
|Will Yeatman (TE)||2||6||0||3.00|
Tate is a great deep threat, as Michigan fans are all too aware. The other guys were good last year, but not particularly exciting. Caveat: This was a very young unit last year, and with another year of experience under their belts, they should be able to do more in the offense.
Paul Duncan, a fifth-year senior, is expected to start at left tackle, after taking an injury redshirt last year. He should be backed up by highly-touted and very-ugly junior Matt Romine. At left guard, 5th-year senior Eric Olsen will start, with redshirt sophomore Andrew Nuss behind him. At center, redshirt junior Dan Wenger will be backed up by Braxton Cave. Chris Stewart, a redshirt junior, will be right guard, with Mike & Mike spawn Mike GOlic Jr. moving from center to back him up. At right tackle, junior Sam Young, who has been awful in each of his previous campaigns, despite lofty #1-overall-recruit status, will be spelled by Lane Clelland.
The Irish offensive line has been crap for the past couple years. They were slightly better last year, and Notre ame has canned the offensive line coach in an attempt to make things at least adequate. They return several starters, and there is no excuse (not that there was last year, and there was only a limited one the previous year) for yet another terrible performance. Paul Duncan struggled at LT before being replaced (an injury expedited this move) last year.
The Notre Dame offense finally has some experience after the past couple years oscillating between terrible and mediocre. Still, you have to wonder exactly how shrewd Weis is, since he’s supposedly an offensive genius, and his teams have mostly been utter crap the past two years. Spare me the “Willingham’s last two classes sucked” mantra as well. Weis’s 3-8 year was with players from HIS recruiting classes that would have been juniors at the time. Sounds like his first 2-3 recruiting classes must not have been all that great either. For someone whose motto is “no excuses,” making excuses seems to be all that Weis does. If Clausen can make another step forward in ’09 (and, sadly, Weis’s track record implies that he will), the Irish offense should be able to move the ball fairly well.
Notre Dame Defense
This all depends on whether the Irish make up their mind with regards to the 4-3 v. 3-4 debate. With Tenuta likely gaining clout within the staff (and with good reason – he’s a bigname coordinator), I would expect the 3-4. Pat Kuntz and Justin Brown are both gone, and Ethan Johnson will step up to fill one of the DE spots full-time. He’s put on a ton of weight (Michigan wanted him as a 4-3 DE coming out of high school , when he weighed around 240), and Irish fans are hoping he’ll be able to occupy a couple gaps. Ian Williams and Morrice Richardson should be the other starters. Behind them, there is scary little depth.
If the starters can’t step up into full-time roles, the Irish DL could be in trouble. This is especially troubling in the 3-4 defense, where the DL is absolutely vital to keeping the playmaking linebackers unblocked. Still, the starters should be adequate, if not better. Johnson excelled at getting to the QB last year, so it’ll be interesting to see how he is utilized in ’09.
Maurice Crum is gone, but the Irish had plenty of linebackers get some experience and playing time last year. Brian Smith and Darius Fleming will play big roles for the defense, along with Kerry Neal. Toryan Smith and Steve Quinn should compete to be the 4th linebacker starting for the Irish. Incoming freshman Manti Te’o is the most exciting player (at least based on guru ratings), so expect him to play as well.
|Notre Dame Linebackers 2008|
Crum wasn’t so much a star as a guy put in position to make plays and making them. None of the replacement players are flashy either, but they should be able to step in and make the plays that Crum did. That said, they won’t do anything that makes you say “wow,” either. They’ll just be a group getting the job done. Te’o brings the flair some, and he may leave on a Mormon mission, so don’t be surprised if the Irish play him early, to get as much as they can out of the guy.
The Irish lose Davis Bruton, who was a pretty good player at one of the safety positions. Harrison Smith will replace him, and Kyle McCarthy will return at the other safety spot. Raeshon McNeil will return at one corner position, and Robert Blanton was a pseudo-starter at the other spot by the end of the year, so he’ll probably man the other position. Terrail Lambert, the player he is replacing, was oft-maligned by Irish fans, so I don’t think they’ll lament his departure, except in terms of depth.
|Notre Dame Defensive Backs 2008|
McCarthy is a safety in the “hey look we have a white safety” Tom Zbikowski mold, and he’s similarly… adequate. Losing Bruton could be a pretty big hit for the Irish, as he was their best ballhawk, in addition to being the guy who made a lot of plays for the Irish. Harrison Smith was more of a designated blitzer than a true safty often last year (think Brandon Harrison), so he might struggle to make a transition to playing deep. The corners should be decent, but the depth there is not great.
The 3-4, assuming the Irish plan to use it as their identity full-time now, really relies on defensive linemen to occupy the offensive line, leaving the linebackers free to make plays. In that light, losing 2 defensive linemen is a pretty huge question mark, especially when the leading tackler at linebacker is gone. Another interesting note is that the linebacking corps didn’t make a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage, which is one thing that the 3-4 defense is designed to allow them to do. Is that a scheme matter or just a lack of good enough bodies? If they switch back the the 4-3 fulltime, they still are very weak along the defensive line, but the linebackers are less of an issue. The secondary should be pretty good, though without a ton of depth. It seems as though Michigan’s run-game strength should be able to run the ball fairly well against the Irish. Will it be enough?
Punter Eric Maust returns, as does kicker Brandon Walker.
|Notre Dame Kicking 2008|
|Notre Dame Punting 2008|
Walker was money on extra points last year, but boy, is that field goal percentage scary. He doesn’t have a great excuse either, as it was his second year as the starter (he went 6/12 as a freshman). He has the leg, nailing a 48-yarder last year, he’s just frighteningly inconsistent. In fact, that led, in part, to the Irish’s demise against GERG last year, as he missed 3(!) of his 6(!) field goal attempts.
The Irish return enough talented players to take a huge leap forward in 2009 – though we were saying the same thing last year. This is a definite make-or-break year for Weis, and if he can’t win with this team, it just shows that he isn’t cut out to be a head coach at the college level. The Irish will be strong on offense, which should really drive this team. The question remains: which was the real Irish offense, the one we saw against BC or the one we saw against Hawaii? I’d lean more towards BC, since the Warriors had a pitiful defense last year.